Future Watch: The Smartphone Room Key

Today, the opening post in a new series on the Travel 2.0 blog covering future travel technology.  Brilliantly titled ‘Future Watch,’ the articles will examine the technology, innovations and opinion surrounding the ‘sci-fi’ tech advances that will shape our future travel plans.

You know, rockets, teleporters and smartphones.

Let’s start with smartphones and if they are becoming too smart for our own good.

A recent post (Holiday Inn to test smartphone as hotel-room key; some guests prefer to skip front desk) from the always knowledgeable Barbara DeLollis at USA Today touched upon upcoming plans from Holiday Inn to test market a hotel room key application for your smartphone.

A topic that we discussed in detail almost two years ago (Travel Trends – HSMAI Marketing Review Summer 2008 (Cont…)), but who’s counting, right?  Anyway…

For a more detailed explanation of the tech, let’s turn to Adam Kirby:

In short, the technology sends an encrypted, unique audio code to a guest’s phone prior to check-in. When played back outside the guestroom, the signal unlocks the door, letting the guest skip the front desk—guests would also receive a text message with their room assignments—while also eliminating the need for keycards, which is green and saves money.

In the Holiday Inn test campaign, which is optional…you can still get your ol’ fashion plastic key card if you want…consumers will be required to download a smartphone app to enable the technology.

And, just for background, the primary technology for the application comes courtesy of OpenWays (when can I get one for my house?).

The article also covers some obvious topics such as staffing (do we need front desk staff anymore?), security (hackers!) and feeling (does this still make you feel warm and fuzzy when you walk into a Holiday Inn?), which all seem to be adequately addressed at this point.

However, while the story paints a pretty solid picture of the tech, the comments about the post drift quickly to the scared, confused and ‘I don’t like technology’ side of the argument.

For example, a sample comment:

Anything electronic can be hacked or otherwise compromised. No thank you, I’ll stick with my room key in my hand.

(Don’t tell him that his key card works via ‘electronics.’)

Personally, I found most of these arguments unfounded.

  1. Hotels already have check-in kiosks.  And honestly, why do I need to speak with front desk employee anyway?
  2. Security is an issue that will be ongoing without regard for technology.  People stole actual keys, swiped and copied the code from your key card or picked up the RFID signal from your key fob.  Crime and tech will be forever bound in an odd, but symmetrical paradox of one-upmanship.
  3. Concerns about lost phones.  Yeah, no problem there, I have a belt clip!

With the advent of any new technology there is always a consumer adoption period.  People have to get use to using GPS v. a paper map.

However, in reading the post and comments as well as writing this post, what really stuck me was the future uses for our cell phones…beyond just a phone.

Simply put, the mobile phone seems almost destine to become the literal key to our daily lives.  The combination of a smart device, GPS, RFID and countless other technologies…not to mention apps…are driving the phone forward in ways unimaginable 20 years ago.

Here is my list for what I expect my ‘phone’ to do / feature / replace in the next 10 years:

  • Hotel Key Card (Check.)
  • House Keys (Check.)
  • Car Keys (Why not? Placing the phone in the car allows it to start.)
  • Wallet (Don’t need one.)
  • Credit Card (You can do that now…sort of.)
  • Boarding Pass (Check.)
  • Business Card (Check.)
  • Driver’s License (Not yet, but might as well.)
  • Passport (Give it time, its coming.)
  • Airline / Rental Car / Gasoline Rewards Card (Got it.)
  • Camera (Got one of those too.)
  • Pictures of loved ones (Right here.)
  • TV Remote Control (Done.)
  • Walkman (+1 if you know what that is.)
  • Sega Game Gear (+2 if you still have one.)
  • GPS (Yeah, you don’t need a separate one.)
  • Phone (Ah, still have it.)

Essentially everything that I currently carry in my pockets is migrating to the mobile phone.

Sure, there will be security concerns, a learning curve and a whole bunch of people pining for the good old days when a phone was a phone, but make no mistake, the center of our increasingly digital lives is revolving around the mobile phone.

Personally, I can’t wait to check in at the HI with just my cell phone.

Now where did I put my wallet…

Comments?  Thoughts?  Disagree?  What else do you want your phone to do in 10 years?  Let us know in the comments section.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.