Using an iPod as a travel device and the what could be (aka the tripPad™)

This fall I was lucky to travel to Berlin and Paris on vacation, but as I geek I of course brought along a computer or 2.

On last years trip to Los Angles I had a NetBook (Aspire One), and using our friends WiFi I was able to keep up on email and access the locations I had added to a google map as well as look up info on place and restaurants either by local or type. But the netbook stayed back at home base after the first few times of bringing it out with me, and only notes or hard copy came with me.

On this year travel I had a new and shinny iPod Touch to test out as a travel aid. The availability of WiFi was limited in both places. In Berlin the hotel (Park Inn Berlin Alexanderplatz) had only paid (expensive) Internet, but we found some coffee shops with 1/2 hour free WiFi with a purchase. In Paris the hotel (the excellent Paris Castex Hôtel) had free WiFi, but the only open Wifi I found out and about was at the new Louvre Apple Store and the Le Palais de Tokyo. So with some planning it was possible to get fresh net and email, and do some goggling. Certainly a iPod wins out over a netbook with respect with easy of carrying and quickly using it.

The key application I used was Maps, and the secret is to have it load the tiles of every where you are going in advance. (Question how long does the ipod cache the map data and titles? or the pages within safari?) Sometimes it does not want to display the tiles and that requires spreading and pinching the map to get it to refresh from it cache. The pseudo gps function was not something that worked well enough to rely on. But I was able to use it to replace my constant referring to a hardcopy map (with I still had, as backup).

The other App that came in handy for Tourist purposes was MetrO which after preloading the data for Paris and Berlin, simplified the act of traveling on the subway, especially when multiple lines where involved.

I was not aware of any app’s equal to UrbanSpoon or Yelp that covered Berlin or Paris, although the app versions of Lonely Planet might have done (we had the hardcopy books).

And the iPod was good for watching emails, with a few brief replies when needed, and following Twitter from 6 time zone from home (Eastern Standard Tribe), plus the occasional research google.

All in all using the iPod as a travel device worked very well.

But, the big short fall was the lack of connectivity, and which given roaming rates, would not have been solved if I had a iPhone and hoped to use cellular data connectivity. One possibility might be using a pre paid phone as a tether for my iPod.

So, short of universal free Wifi and / or cellular data becoming available, this got me to thinking about how this might be a business opportunity aimed a overseas tourists.

I’m thinking of a iPod like device, call it a tripPad ™, TouristPad ™, TravelPad ™™ or tPad (maybe even a tPod ?), based on the Google Android platform with touch screen, no keyboard, Data cellular connectivity, and GPS.

So here’s the scenario:

  • Arrive at airport, and put your credit card in a vendor machine which after verifying my card, and confirming my preferred language, pops out a configured and ready to go device, with a lanyard.
  • Charges are ~ $10 a day, with a deposit of ~ 100 to ~200 for non-return. (they will have to be more scratch resistant that iPods currently are).
  • some limited configuration can be done: preferred language, temperature (Fahrenheit or Celsius); your hotels address; other emergency info.
  • by default, or in standby mode, the home screen shows the local time, weather, a basic map where you are.
  • the key application is the “Map” which happens you get around and locates you but also can show you additional layers, based on the key verbs.
  • The Key Verbs on the Home Bar are things like Map,Food, Attractions, Events, Shopping, Metro, Historical. Food is restaurants and (maybe) grocery stores; Attractions are cultural places like museums and galleries; Events shows things happening like music or special exhibitions next days to a week out. Shopping is just what you would expect; Metro is subway, streetcar and buses, it could also have a “call me a cab feature” using voip (also a source of revenue for the referral); Historical is the places where where major past in the event. All the place can be “bookmarked” and for events a date and time reminder and be set.
  • Restaurants and stores could also have discount offers push thought the device. (and an additional source of revenue).
  • You could add self guided walking tours to various neighborhoods and on various themes (food, shopping, history, etc).
  • Because you have Data cellular connectivity (like the Kindle whispernet) you can get some updates like ,the weather and weeks in the next 7 to 9 days, new discount offers, and any other data updates.
  • One of the key difference between this device and a standard smart phone is the end user can’t install addtional application or make a phone call (save in special cases like the “call a cab” or a 411 help feature which is billed for). This is not a replacement for someone who could use a smart phone, this is for people who can’t use a smart phone.
  • At the end of the trip, you return it to a similar vending machine, where is cleans it and re formats for the next visitor; If you have lost it you put in your card card (to identify yourself), note it as lost and pay the deposit; the device gets remotely deactivated and can be tracked down by it’s gps. I would not sell them, since that might create a grey market for device stolen from beaten up tourist’s. 🙁
  • All of the hardware, software, or data is around, there is nothing special it “just” a matter of putting it and the infrastructure (the vendor machines -which might be the hardest part-, and the cellular data network) together.
  • Other “interesting (for internet values of interesting) things you could do is to link multiple devices together. Think of it as very small (nano scale) location based social network wired into the platform. If we both have TripPads then exchange id’s and after giving permission (becoming “friends”) we could:
    • know each others location, with the ability to go
    • send short text messages (sms) to one or more of my “friends”
    • use the voip to talk to one or more of my “friends” at a time
  • In rolling this out I would focus first on (english) North America’s traveling in Paris first, then London, Rome, and then add Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore. Then I would look at Europeans traveling to North America (New York, Los Angeles, and ?) and Asia – adding French German Italian and Spanish language versions; and Asians traveling to North America and Europe – adding Japanese and Chinese language. This list of Most visited cities is a nice start but I would want to break it down for oversea visitors. You need to look for large number of well off travelings going to destinations outside of their cell phone roaming areas.
  • If you wanted to also get people traveling within their cell phone roaming areas (people from Los Angeles or Kansas traveling to New York; or people from Berlin going to Paris), I would target their existing smart phones. This might be a bigger market, but their needs are being meet with a collection of existing applications, althouoght if you can build a better, more integrated, mousetrap …

Here me O’ Internet and grant me my LWR (lazy web request), or if you’re a VC then let’s do lunch!

update : a couple of additional functional points to add to the TripPad :

  • Help with verbal translation: because so many of us north americans are so impaired with non English languages
  • Help with Text translation: this one is easier and is one of the few justifications to add a camera onto the TripPad, save for AR, is to be able to image some text; OCR it to text (because It don’t want to re text it); and translate that text. Give it a special empathize on menu phrases and this alone could make it a hit!! (any iPhone app doing this? for people too embarrassed to admit they don’t know what all those fancy Italian and French food words mean?)
  • As a part all that map layer data, how about walking tours (based on themes – art , history architecture, food – or your combination of those) with a text to voice component?

Update: The December 21, 2009 New York Times takes about For Travelers, a Personal Concierge on Your Phone

Update: March 2012 The tripPad™ arrives in Madrid, tourists to Madrid can now can rent a 3G iPad.

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