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Apple Surprises us with iTravel for Cruise Line Services

1 - Cover - iTravel for the Cruise line Services - Apple patent 2010 
Apple first introduced us to their iTravel App in April of this year which packed quite the punch. In July, Apple followed up with two new iTravel services relating to Airline and hotel services and the travel industry went wild on this news. Today, Apple's next iTravel direction takes us to the cruise line industry. Apple knows that researching and putting together a cruise itinerary could be a daunting experience for consumers. Trying to figure out where to go, what excursions and/or off-shore activities to take or sifting through an endless list of cruise line services, could be intimidating. Planning a cruise with Apple's iTravel for cruise lines will greatly simplify that process from pre-cruise to post-cruise. Apple's future iTravel app will take advantage of NFC and location based technologies to enhance your cruise line experience with such services as social networking, interactive ship maps, the ability to purchase onboard tickets to shows or restaurants and even to act as a universal remote to control in-cabin electronics and climate control. Apple's latest patent even surprises us with a very strong hint of providing a future iPhone with a pico projector so as to possibly enhance your travel experience by being able to show off your excursion iMovies to an audience.  


Patent Background


Going on a cruise is a pastime enjoyed by many people. Cruises could allow one to go on a vacation that not only provides for the basic needs of its patrons (e.g., food, drinks, and housing), but also allows one to travel, explore new cities, take part in guided tours or "excursions" into these new cities, and treat oneself to onboard activities such as, for example, shows, casinos, spa appointments, and health club classes. In this way, going on a cruise is a unique experience that is different from, for example, other vacations or trips because it allows customers to take part in a wide variety of activities through one service provider.


When a customer goes on a cruise, many interactions between the customer and the cruise service providers could take place. For example, a customer could interact with a cruise service provider to research the cruise line, to make a reservation, to obtain information related to onboard activities, excursions, or both, and to obtain post-cruise amenities. All of these interactions could require distinct actions from the user from different devices or elements. For example, a user could browse an on-line website to research a company, a user could call to make a reservation, a user may receive pamphlets listing onboard activities, excursions, or both under their door every morning of the cruise, and a user may sign up to receive follow-up promotions and coupons by e-mail after the cruise has ended.


Although this combination of approaches for interacting with a cruise service provider can be serviceable, it remains cumbersome and requires the cruise service provider to accommodate all of the possible forms of interaction. From a user's perspective, the lack of centralization of interactions with the cruise service provider and with the available cruise services can require more effort from the user than desired, and perhaps even dissuade the user from going on a cruise or using available cruise services (thus at a cost to the cruise service provider).


Patent Summary


Apple's patent is about systems and methods for providing an integrated interface for accessing cruise services using portable devices like the iPhone or iPad. The cruise services could include, for example, promotions and coupons associated with the cruise service provider, a listing of available cruise activities, maps of the cruise ship, a user interface for controlling entertainment systems and temperature within a user's cabin, a listing of safety and emergency information, providing notifications of and opportunities to purchase unsold cruise activities, and any other suitable cruise services.


To access the cruise services, the iPhone will be able to interface with the cruise system using any suitable approach. In some embodiments, the iPhone will be able to securely connect to one or more servers associated with the cruise service provider. For example, the iPhone will be able to connect with distinct servers associated with ordering services or goods from the cruise (e.g., room service). As another example, the iPhone will be able to connect with distinct servers associated with attractions, shops, or stores for which the user could make reservations, purchases, or access information (e.g., for shops and attractions within the cruise ship or within a city at which the cruise ship docks).


To assist the Cruise Company, Apple's system could provide ways to stimulate activities in real-time. For instance, a user could be provided with notifications of available cruise activities. In particular, in some embodiments a user could be provided with notifications of unsold cruise activities. For example, oftentimes a cruise may offer cruise activities that could be purchased, such as onshore excursions, tickets to shows, spa appointments, spots in fitness classes such as yoga classes, or any other purchasable cruise activity. When spots in such a cruise activity are unsold, notifications of the unsold activity could be provided to a user. The notification may include, for example, information related to the unsold cruise activity, an option to purchase the unsold cruise activity, or both. In some embodiments, targeted notifications could be provided by comparing attributes of an unsold cruise activity to a user profile of the user. In response the attributes of the unsold cruise activity matching the user profile, the user could be provided with a notification of the unsold cruise activity.


The iPhone with Pico Projector


One of the interesting little twists to this patent is that it describes the iPhone as having a pico projector-like ability. Apple first hinted at such a system in June 2009 and then again in April 2010. In this new patent, Apple states that "In some embodiments, I/O circuitry could include display circuitry (e.g., a screen or projection system) for providing a display visible to the user." The patent further describes this projector by stating that "the display circuitry could include a movable display or a projecting system for providing a display of content on a surface remote from electronic device (e.g., a video projector).


This would be an excellent application to enhance your cruise experience by allowing you to share your day's excursions that you shot on your iPhone or future iPad camera with other travelling guests, friends or family. Instead of having a crowd around your device to see your day's photos or iMovie, you'll be able to simply project them onto the surface of a ship wall or in one of the ship's lounges for all to see, laugh at and enjoy.


Apple's iTravel – for Cruises


2 - iTravel - overview of of the cruise package - apple patent 

Apple's patent FIG. 2 shows diagram 200 of several illustrative situations during which a user could make use of a single, integrated application to interface with a cruise system. These situations may include, for example, a pre-cruise scenario while the user is planning a cruise itinerary (e.g., while booking a cruise or researching a cruise line), a pre-board scenario before the user's initial arrival to the cruise ship, an onboard scenario while the user is on the cruise ship, an onshore scenario when the cruise ship docks at a port, and finally a post-cruise scenario for after the cruise has ended.


In patent FIG. 3 we're able to see Apple's selling points chart for the cruise industry. They highlight how Apple's single integrated application will be able to assist their services.


Pre-Cruise Upsell Opportunities – Shore Excursions & Activities


3 - Pre-Cruise excursions, activities and upsell opportunities - apple patent nfc 

As you could see in patent FIG. 4, Apple's integrated iTravel app will allow you to access cruise services that could help you build excitement about your trip. You'll be able to view activities and excursions, view port accommodations, create cruise reservations, access cruise reservations, modify cruise reservations, receive "bon voyage gifts," perform any other suitable function related to planning a cruise while being able to view cruise ship maps and layouts. The iTravel app will support a push notification system to forward notifications from the servers of third party applications.


Pre-Boarding Information


4 - Pre-Boarding Information - apple nfc patent - iTravel related 

As generally indicated in patent FIG. 6, you'll be able to receive a confirmation of the cruise (e.g., confirmed date and time of departure) and receive last-minute instructions for boarding the cruise (e.g., a particular time for the user's group to board the cruise, safety instructions, or other suitable information), request upgrades, request any available cruise services, or perform any other suitable functions related to initially boarding a cruise through Apple's iTravel.


Oftentimes, cruises offer an overwhelming number and variety of cruise activities to a customer. For example, the cruise may offer a variety of onboard cruise activities (e.g., shows, health club classes such as spinning, yoga, and rock climbing, casinos, shops, pools, organized games, poker tournaments, demonstrations such as ice carving and napkin folding, spa trips, clubs, and any other suitable cruise activity onboard the cruise ship) and a variety of onshore cruise activities, referred to as "excursions," that may be purchased through the cruise service provider (e.g., museum trips, aquarium trips, horseback riding, snorkeling, surfing, hiking and scuba diving, and any other suitable onshore cruise activity). Apple's iTravel will be able to provide an easy to use interface to allow users to explore these many services and even provide handy videos of each to assist the upsell activities.


Social Networking


As indicated in diagram 600 above, functions of iTravel could be provided to create a user profile. In some embodiments, iTravel could utilize your profile for social networking. For example, user profiles of various customers on the cruise could be compared to help customers with matching interests locate one another. Through iTravel, customers on the cruise could, for example, meet workout buddies, meet people who may want to go to shows or clubs together, organize various teams or games (e.g., locate a group of people who want to play a basketball game that day), or could be provided with any other suitable social networking opportunities. In some embodiments, the user profile could be utilized to provide you with a targeted listing of available cruise activities such as equestrian activities or horseback riding excursions. On single's cruises this would be a must application. And lastly on this point, Apple points to iPhone's GPS being used to find someone you're socially networking with on the ship.


On Board – Enhanced Entertainment & Social Connections


5 - On Board - enhanced entertainment & social connections - iTravel cruises - apple patent 2010 

In Room Services: As generally indicated in diagram 700, a user could control aspects of their cruise ship cabin such as heat, air conditioning, and lighting, and could control a television, speakers, or other entertainment system in the cabin through iTravel's universal remote functionality. You'll also be able to call up room service or make restaurant reservations on your iOS device.


Interactive Maps: As another illustration, information related to the cruise can be provided such as, for example, interactive maps of the cruise ship showing the locations of stores, pools, gyms, or other available services, the weather forecast (e.g., for the cruise ship or for a city in which the cruise ship is scheduled to dock), and security information (e.g., locations of life rafts and vests or information on what to do in the event of an emergency).


For example, user interface 702 shows an exemplary interface with an interactive map of a cruise ship on which the user is traveling. As another illustration, user interface 704 shows an exemplary interface that could provide streaming of live video feeds from various areas of the cruise ship. As another illustration, the user can be provided with information regarding the hours of various stores and activities on the cruise ship. For example, user interface 706 shows an exemplary interface in which a customer is informed of when the cruise ship's venues will be open.


On Shore – Excursions, Activities, Locations-Based Attractions


6 - On Shore - excursions, activities, location based attractions - iTravel Cruises - apple nfc patent 2010 

As illustrated in FIG. 8, iTravel could provide you with warning notifications on your iPhone to alert you to the fact that a show in beginning shortly (e.g., in 30 minutes).


As generally indicated in diagram 900, iTravel will allow you to access cruise services that could provide you with a day's onshore schedule. For example, the schedule could include information such as the times of available or purchased excursions (i.e., onshore cruise activities), the times of any other suitable activities, the time that you're required to return to the ship etc.


As described above, in addition to onshore cruise activities (i.e., "excursions"), cruise service providers could additionally or alternatively offer onboard cruise activities to cruise customers. Both types of cruise activities could be activities which are free for the cruise customers to attend (e.g., free shows onboard the cruise, organized games, demonstrations, or any other suitable free cruise activity) or could be activities which are purchased (e.g., spa appointments, excursions such as snorkeling trips, scuba diving trips, horseback riding trips, or any other suitable cruise activity which is purchased).


Post Cruise – Debarkation, Rewards & More


7 - Post Cruise information - Apple iTravel Cruise App - apple patent 2010 

In Apple's patent FIG. 12 we see diagram 1200 relating to post-cruise proceedings that may be available to you via iTravel, such as access to debarkation information. You'll be able to access final destination information (e.g., information about the final destination where the cruise ship will dock and maps to where taxis, rental cars, or other transportation may be found), receive bounceback offers, and receive offers from affiliate programs. For example, user interface 1204 shows an exemplary interface that could provide you with a bounceback offer to book another cruise with the cruise service provider. As another example, as illustrated by user interface 1206, you'll be provided with an opportunity to enter, view, and modify rewards information relating to such things as car rental and restaurant rewards.


Apple credits Kaiann Drance and Stanley Ng as the inventors of patent application 20100306075, originally filed in Q3 2009.


Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


Other Sites Covering our Original Report


MacSurfer, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, Tnooz, Hotel Marketing, E-Blog Germany, iPhoneItalia Italy, iTrafik France (MacPlus) and macnews Germany.  




Very detailed and thorough application by Apple. The social networking aspect would be a nice improvement to the cruise consumer's experience today - but I would think it's more valuable in the pre-cruise phase. For example finding a shore excursion partner or a dinner companion before the cruise instead of waiting till the cruise starts.

Regardless, the cruise sector will benefit from all of this innovation.

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