Is this Australian travel app the next step for tablets?

I’ve known Daniel Brody for going on 15 years now, all the way back to his time as a tech guru at Radio Beacon, a warehouse management software company acquired by Accellos Inc. in 2006. Just a few weeks ago, he showed up at my office unannounced and shoved an iPad in my face. Brusque, yes, but the app on display more than made up for the rushed treatment.

Daniel Brody is president of iHorse Technologies, a Toronto-based company specializing in technology solutions for business, and he’s been working in conjunction with the tablet ebook/app company PadWorx Digital Media Inc., also out of Toronto. The app he demonstrated, “There’s NOTHING Like Australia!,” was a prototype for a new breed of interactive tourism apps, in this instance showcasing the great nation and continent of Australia. It was bold; it was intriguing; and it wasn’t quite like anything I’d seen before — videos, sounds and sliders, all generated from a core gaming engine. I had to sit down with Daniel for an interview so that managers know where this side of the hospitality industry is headed.

Larry Mogelonsky: How does the software behind the There’s NOTHING Like Australia! app work? What makes it unique?

Daniel Brody: Built on a proprietary engine that allows for customized features and pan-platform distribution, the There’s NOTHING Like Australia! app provides each reader with a unique opportunity to see 13 of the best locations in Australia through the eyes of various travelers. Interactive, first-person journals relate the ideal journeys of everyday tourists, providing readers with a fun and insightful ground-eye view of Australia. Also, distinctive, innovative, full-bleed video is incorporated directly into each storytelling experience.

The app also boasts a guide section that presents over 100 of the best places to visit. Readers can learn about museums, spas, outback wilderness excursions and much more. And with its Itinerary feature, any of the 100 places can be selected to build up a potential trip.

LM: What does it take to build such a powerful application?

DB: First of all, it takes an adaptable software base that can publish to any platform. It also takes an experienced team possessing an assortment of complementary talents and skills. Communication, of course, is a vital component — not only among team members, but also with the client. Knowing what they want ensures an end product that surpasses expectations. Our team kept in daily (nightly, in fact, given geography) contact with our Australian liaisons, providing numerous concept drawings, mock-ups and intermediary builds. In a very real sense, the app was as much crafted as it was built.

LM: What do you find is different or unique for apps built specifically for the hospitality industry? What do these consumers want?

DB: In true left-brain right-brain fashion, consumers want to simultaneously know and feel. They want to know the important facts that will help them to decide the where, when and how to travel. As well, they want this information presented quickly and cleanly within the app.

At the same time, consumers appreciate an app that gives them a flavor of what they will feel when they arrive. For the There’s NOTHING Like Australia! app, we gave consumers the best of both worlds by providing both narrative and informational content. Presented as “Experience” and “Discover,” users can feel what it is like to travel to 13 locations within Australia by reading a series of interactive text and image journals. All this is complemented by video, sound and animation effects to fully immerse a reader.

LM: How important is interactivity for tablet apps?

DB: Interactivity is the defining feature of all apps. But there are degrees of interactivity, and the bar is continuously being raised. Users not only want to decide what content they consume and in what order, they want ever more interaction in how they consume content. Personalization, socialization, customization and “game-ification” are quickly becoming expected features of all apps, even in the travel and hospitality industry.

LM: What do you feel will be most important for hospitality tablet apps in the near future?

DB: Obviously, information comes first. Above all else, users want to make informed decisions about how to spend their time and money, and apps that cater to this need will be more sought after than those that don’t. Building on this, users want interaction and information-rich apps that anticipate the types of questions they have about specific products as well as stream specific user profiles towards desired content as quickly as possible. Hospitality apps must leverage social networks — particularly the experiences of other users — to dovetail the brand message, but this must be done in a useful and meaningful way. Lastly, hospitality apps will need to be truly mobile, presenting travelers with relevant information in real time based on their individual preferences and GPS location.