Tech Talk: 3 Lessons Hotels Can Learn From Apple
You’d be hard pressed to find a person alive today who isn’t at least somewhat familiar with the unprecedented success of the Apple Corporation. They were the first company to hit a trillion in market cap, they inspired a design revolution and they’ve developed a rabid fanbase that one forbes writer compares to that of a drug addiction.
Success like this doesn’t come by accident. In a world of readily available alternatives, Apple has been able to rise above the rest with an unwavering commitment to create one-of-a-kind products that solve pervasive problems while delighting users.
We can all learn a lot from the meteoric rise of Apple’s value since their near bankruptcy in 1997. Hotels in particular can apply many of the same principles that Apple was built on to deliver a differentiated guest experience that separates them from the competition. While there’s many lessons hotels can take away from the tech giant, I believe the following 3 are the most important.
Lesson 1: Put Your Customers Needs First
This may seem obvious, but understanding how much importance Apple places on user-experience is paramount to understanding their unprecedented success. The key here is user experience. It doesn’t mean the newest iPhones have all the latest greatest and features. In fact it’s quite the opposite. The Camera falls short to the GS9 and Huwaie Pro, the screen resolution isn’t as good either, and the memory doesn’t quite stack up with the competition.
But Apple discovered long ago that while the latest and greatest specs might win over more tech-savvy consumers, the majority of people want a device that is simple to understand and easy to use. This a driving reason behind iOS looking more or less the same since 2007. It’s comforting knowing that when you upgrade your old iPhone the new one will work pretty much the same. No learning curve. Just pick it up and go.
That doesn’t mean iOS hasn’t seen significant upgrades and improvements over the years. iMessage, Siri, customizable widgets, a proper files app, and much more have been added to the Apple operating system over the years. But all of those changes tend to fall perfectly in line with the previous iOS version. Apple knows they have a winner, so instead of making bold, drastic changes, they make smaller upgrades that are intuitively obvious to use and require very little understanding to be proficient at.
Hoteliers can apply this same principle to help keep their guests satisfied. While it may be tempting to add the latest and greatest smart technology because of a cool product demo you saw, it’s key to ask yourself “Will the majority of my guests understand and want to use this?” If the answer is “probably not” it might be a good idea to hold off.
You’re seeing this a lot with the evolution of the luxury hotel. Emerging brands like 1 Hotels, Pendry Hotels, and Public hotels are redefining modern luxury by streamlining and focusing solely on what guests want, and nothing else. WATG, a luxury architect and design firm leading the way in this space, had this to say:
“The new luxury hotel is defined by the offering of high quality, one-of-a-kind hotel experiences, which focus on what is important to the guest whilst foregoing the superfluous.”
To think like Apple means to put your customers wants and needs above anything else. For hotels, that means upgrading the necessities and eliminating the unnecessary.
Lesson 2: Design is Key
The importance of Design in Apple’s product strategy goes back to Steve Jobs love for his childhood home. Developed by Joseph Eichler, Jobs boyhood home featured floor-to-ceiling glass walls, open floor plans, and lots of sliding glass doors. The simplistic and clean look deeply resonated with Jobs and instilled a passion in him for creating sharply designed products for the mass market.
At the heart of Apple’s design strategy is one key word - simplicity. Not just simplicity of the look and feel, but simplicity inside and out. From the lock screen, to the app store, to the exterior controls, everything about Apple’s most popular products were designed to be intuitively easy to use.
“It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.”
-Steve Jobs on the Importance of Simplicity
Getting something to be this simple was anything but easy. Jobs became obsessed with making sure every detail fit together perfectly. For example, before the original Macintosh came out in 1984, Jobs tasked two young designers with creating a preliminary design for him to review. After the first iteration was presented, the majority of the Mac team seemed generally satisfied. Jobs however, was a little more critical - “It’s way too boxy, it’s got to be more curvaceous. The radius of the first chamfer needs to be bigger, and I don’t like the size of the bevel.” These were just some of the criticisms he had.
Over the course of about 6 months, at least 5 different different versions would be presented and meticulously scrutinized to the point where the designers barely noticed a difference between the 4th and 5th model. This was part of the genius of Jobs. He could see and point things out that most people couldn’t comprehend. While his infatuation with design was expensive and a contributing factor to his temporary removal from Apple, it was this kind of thinking that led to a design revolution and turned Apple into the behemoth it is today.
7 years after Jobs death, his obsession with simplistic design shines through in Apple products now more than ever. Take the iPhone X or newer iPhone XS for example. The edgeless display, removal of the home button, and facial ID recognition all contribute to a more simplistic feel.
The simplistic and streamlined design Apple has been at the forefront of is making its way into hotels across the world. Take Aloft Hotels for example. Advertising themselves as “Different By Design,” they have become a pioneer in the boutique hotel space. Each property utilizes modern technology and design to enhance experiences and “move at the pace of our guests.”
Additionally, every Aloft features vibrant and purposeful public spaces aimed at bringing people closer together. Aloft knows who their target market is, and every design decision is thoughtfully made and reflects what their guests are looking for.
Aloft isn’t the only one. Emerging brands like Yotel, POD, and Arlo are just a few who have removed traditional hotel infrastructure to create a simpler and more streamlined hotel. Even some Courtyards, historically known as a “cookie-cutter hotel” have undergone some major redesigns to capture some of that modern and simplistic feel.
Be like Apple and keep it simple.
Lesson 3: Keep Moving Forward
Apple has never been afraid to make bold decisions that seem risky and downright foolish to some. Take the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 for example. From one perspective this could be viewed as a ploy to force unsuspecting consumers to purchase AirPods (Apple’s Wireless Headphones) if they want to listen to music and charge their phone at the same time.
While there is some truth to that, I believe the bigger reason for this controversial move is Apple is betting big on a wireless future. Remember, simplicity is at the heart of Apple’s design decisions. And the more ports, the more wires, the more physical buttons that exist, the more messy the design becomes.
Just think about some of the decisions Apple has made over the past 5 years. The drastic increase in digital media consumption led them to remove the CD drive on their computers, the increased popularity in Bluetooth headphones led to the removal of the headphone jack, and I believe the increased adoption of Qi wireless charging will eventually lead to the removal of the charging port.
So while others view these decisions as risky, Apple sees it as an opportunity to be a catalyst in this global shift to a “world without wires.”
The hospitality market is a little trickier to navigate when it comes to innovation, especially when it pertains to technology. Most hotels have a wide range of guests and upgrading to the latest and greatest can alienate more traditional guests who didn’t grow up with modern technology or prefer not to use it. Throw in the fact that historically most people don’t expect state-of-the art technology when they stay at a hotel, and it becomes a much safer decision to simply stick with what you know works.
But as many hoteliers are starting to realize, being stuck in the past can severely hurt business in 2018. It’s no mystery that the millennial generation, and Gen Z right behind them, have significantly different expectations when traveling than generations before them. Many of these people were using Apple products before they learned to walk, meaning they expect more sophistication in the mobile technology area.
Savvy hoteliers find ways to accommodate both. Let’s use Yotel as an example again. They added a self check-in Kiosk for those wanting a quick and automated check-in, but they also have a traditional front desk for those who expect it. In this way, Yotel was able to appeal to both older and younger generations.
Adding a self check-in kiosk may be out of the question for many properties. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to prepare for the future without alienating guests. Wireless Charging, for example, is the future of mobile charging technology. But many guests don’t have Qi compatible phones - so why not put in a solution that has both?
In this way, maybe the more appropriate lesson is: Keep moving forward, but don’t forget your past.
While the hospitality and consumer electronics industry are drastically different, there’s several success principles that hotels can apply moving into the New Year. By following Apple’s lead and doubling down on guest experience, design, and innovation, hoteliers can gain a significant leg up on the competition and grow their business in 2019 and beyond.