Often, more than technology itself, the buzzwords that describe technology can be confusing. Take the ‘Internet of Things’, among the hottest buzzwords today. The term describes an interconnected world where connected devices talk to each other. Sounds like sci-fi? To some it is, but guess what, the Internet of Things is here and travel is one area where it is already doing us a lot of good.
As a traveller, there are ways you can benefit from this trend. An application on my smartphone today tells me about a gate change for my flight before the airline staff make an announcement. Another knows I have a flight to catch, checks traffic conditions and warns me that though I have accounted for an hour to make it to the airport, traffic is heavier and I should leave 15 minutes earlier.
As a business technology journalist, I use many of these nifty apps and tools. But I don’t nearly travel as much as some globe-trotters. So I asked Krishnadeep Baruah, senior director of channel marketing-APAC for BlackBerry, based in Singapore, and Ray Wang, principal analyst and chairman of Constellation Research, based in the San Francisco Bay Area to tell me about the app and tech weaponry in their travel arsenal.Google Now:
An intelligent personal assistant available for Android and iOS, Google Now provides information instantly and intuitively even without you asking for it. It does everything from telling you that traffic to the airport is suddenly heavier and suggesting when you should leave to make your flight, to translation, weather, nearby attractions and more.
The application is implemented as part of the Google Search application and makes sense of repeated actions you perform on your smartphone (for instance, search queries or flight queries) to display information valuable to you. However, there’s a slightly scary bit too when you realise that a search made on your PC, which is logged into Gmail, suddenly shows up on Google Now. So if you’ve told your wife you’re going out for a weekend of meditation but are instead heading to Goa with buddies, your smartphone may just come alive and tell you that your flight to Goa is delayed and your game may be up. BlackBerry Travel:
BlackBerry users don’t have Google Now, but for years, many have sworn by BlackBerry Travel. It identifies bookings from your email and integrates it into the calendar, and provides reminders of a flight or that you should web-check-in. Information about flight delays, gate changes and the like are automatically updated too. Weather forecasts as well as a regularly updated currency calculator are integrated into the travel app. You can also book a rental car and hotel rooms too.Seatguru:
At a time when businesses are cutting costs and medium-haul business class travel is the first perk out of the window, seat selection is critical. Though your company may have axed all business class travel, not all economy class seats are the same and we’re not just talking about middle seats and aisle seats. Depending on aircraft type, there are seats with amazing leg room or privacy. Some airlines have only a few seats with power outlets, critical for working on your notebook PC, or you can ensure you’re never seated next to a noisy washroom or are unlucky enough to get a seat with a restricted incline. Available on the internet or as an Android or iOS app, Seatguru offers colour-coded maps from 103 airlines across the world, and closer home features Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet aircraft. FlightAware:
There are many apps that tell you about flight status, but they are usually restricted to information from airport operators and airlines. FlightAware, though, is a website that does lots more. I use FlightAware for figuring out an incoming flight delay (on multi-hop flights) and much before the airline announces a delay I know thanks to the map that the flight has perhaps covered 10 percent of the distance to my local airport when it should have landed by now and ergo, I can go get relaxing a foot massage knowing there’s yet another delay I will experience.
You can search by flight number, tail number (starting with VT- in India) or route. FlightAware gets this information by integrating with major aircraft datalink services such as SITA, ARINC, GDC and more. FlightAware has mobile apps for nearly every mobile platform out there.
For the aircraft buffs: That time when you’ve just boarded an airplane is time wasted, especially if you’re on an aisle seat. You can’t focus and get any work accomplished because someone wants to access the window seat; others bump you on the way to their seats. I use this time to find out about the aircraft I’m flying on through websites like irfleets.net, planespotters.net or airliners.net. Before I get on, I check out the tail number (easier when you’re boarding through a ladder than an aerobridge) and look through the aircraft’s history. I’ve discovered interesting facts—one leased Air India Airbus 330 aircraft I flew on was used by Libyan Air for a while. Another Jet Airways Boeing 737-800 was stored for two years till Jet Airways leased it and it now flies with Nok Air’s amazingly bright colour scheme. For those worried about safety, these websites also tell you about the age of an aircraft, though aviation experts will tell you that has little to do with safety. Closer home, even India’s aviation regulator the DGCA has a feature on their website dgca.nic.in to tell you about Indian registered aircraft, though this is restricted to the period the aircraft is registered in India.Dropbox:
Wondering what a cloud storage service is doing on this list? Dropbox has no travel information feature, but for frequent travellers, it can make the pains of travel and lack of connectivity far smoother to navigate. What I do is put my work folders and important personal folders on Dropbox. When I work at an airport or on the road, the file is immediately saved on Dropbox across my notebook PC, smartphones and tablet. When I need to access the updated presentation on my iPad at a meeting, I have immediate access. When those you’ve met want a copy of the presentation you can just attach from Dropbox on your smartphone or tablet right away and mail it to them.
I also create a folder in Dropbox for every trip and put everything related to the trip there—from tickets to travel insurance documents to passport scans and even a list of must-visit places and shopping lists for baking supplies my wife struggles to find in India.
(This story appears in the 07 March, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)