Apple's plans for iTravel tool, revealed

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Courtesy Patently Apple
Diagrams from the patent applications filed by Apple.

Apple is planning a new app/service called iTravel. The tool is expected to allow you make travel reservations and check-in with your iPhone—for flights, hotels, and cruises. Shown here is a screenshot from PatentlyApple.com, a site that has gone through patents filed by Apple in the past year for something called iTravel. Apple hasn't made any official annoucements yet, but it might at a conference in May.

What's truly promising here is an auto-suggest feature for apps. Let's say you're visiting London and happen to walk from your hotel to the British Museum. Your iPhone would detect your location and automatically suggest you download an app related to the British Museum, with http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/london-british-museum-guide/id330003989?mt=8">audio guides. (Listen to the guides on your iPhone. No more waiting in line for a headset.)

Then let's say you head over to the theatre district. The technology would pop-up a window on your iPhone screen offering you an app to book a theatre reservation. If you find all of the suggestions annoying, you could opt to filter what types of information you receive—if any—at the start of your trip.

I like the idea of this service because, while I think of myself as a tech junkie, I don't want to have to spend time on my smartphone looking up relevant apps and tools while I'm on a trip. I just want to enjoy my destination and live in the moment. This auto-suggest-an-app tool would solve the problem for me and like-minded travelers.

If you hate tapping and swiping, Apple plans to appeal to you with better voice-activated controls. Last year it bought a new technology called Siri. Most tours, activities, and reservations are booked after travelers arrive at a destination. Apple's incorporation of new voice-based search engine technology would let people quickly speak into their Iphone to get answers. Imagine, for instance, that you say "walking tour London."

You could theoretically receive information on relevant walking tours that start near where you are (thanks to the GPS-based location information of their iPhone) at this particular time. Ditto for taxi and restaurant information.

Everyone's curious about Apple's plans. Will it sell travel the same way it sells songs in its iTunes store? Nobody knows. At first, it seems like Apple's plan is to help smooth the logistics of travel. Need to book an on-shore excursion while you're still on board a cruise ship? Apple's iTravel will try to come to the rescue.

We look at the patents the company has filed for a new multipurpose travel app, which may possibly be built in to all new devices.

Apple's iTravel will help you plan flights, hotel stays, and cruise trips.

Flights Get your trip off to a flying start. Check in for your flight and choose your seat with a few taps and swipes. Use your phone as your boarding pass, dispensing with the need for paper. Need to find a good place for a snack nearby? Your iPhone could plot your location on a map of the airport's terminals and its food offerings. There also, in the years ahead, may be ways to use your phone to help you pass through security checkpoints faster.

(In February, Blackberry unveiled a similar Travel App for customers with a business travel focus. (See a Blackberry video demonstration here.)

Hotels At participating hotels, you could check-in using your iPhone&dmash; and bypass the front desk. You iPhone would act as your hotel key, using near-field technology. You'll use your device to control room settings such as room temperature and the TV volume. Check-out using your iPhone, too.

Cruises Once on a ship, you could use your iPhone to see find your location on a virtual map of the cruise ship. You could be alerted when cruise activities are scheduled to happen, and you could reserve an off-shore excursion. You could control the air-conditioning system and entertainment system for your cabin.

[This post drew heavily from Patently Apple's coverage of Apple's travel-related patents.]

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