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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Roukas

The Game-Changing Impact of Apple Intelligence in Travel

Updated: 4 days ago

I was impressed when Google demonstrated its new Advanced Trip Planner Experience at their recent developer conference—enough to write about it here. In retrospect, that was nothing compared to what Apple just announced at WWDC, their annual developer conference. The implications of Apple’s new tech go much further, with far-reaching impacts on travel and just about any other industry that communicates directly with its customers through digital interfaces.


When I advise companies about Generative AI (GAI) adoption, my principal message is in getting them to look beyond popular, isolated ideas (customer service chatbot, anyone?) to more strategic issues such as how GAI can help them come up with better products and even improve their competitive strategy. Here’s my GAI adoption hierarchy in a nutshell:


  • Implementing at the individual proof of concept (POC) level. This is where companies have multiple, siloed POCs running without thinking about how they’ll work together in the future.

  • Implementing at a coordinated POC level across multiple business functions. At this level, the company considers how current and future POCs will communicate and share information via a shared GAI platform used by all business functions across the enterprise.

  • Considering change with a product strategy focus. How can GAI help us improve our current products and potentially design new ones?

  • Considering change at the highest levels of competitive strategy. How can GAI help us with our current strategy? How could it help us think through new competitive strategies that may be stronger than what we currently have?

The item I have the most difficulty getting people to think about is the last, which also has the highest potential impact on company success. I’ve been searching for a good example that would broadly illustrate moves (in travel or technology) that impact a company’s competitive strategy, and Apple just dropped the mother of all examples in our laps with its WWDC announcements last week.


The announcements were many, but the key point relevant to this post is that they released Apple Intelligence, a collection of generative AI capabilities customers access on their apple devices through an agentic interface. In other words, a conversational GAI interface that feels like you’re talking to another human rather than interacting with individual chatbots, applications, and widgets. While you can ask a chatbot or app to execute a task (e.g., find flights from JFK to BCN on July 12th and returning July 19th) on your behalf, you can give an agent a goal (plan a 10 day itinerary with flights, hotels, and activities for a family of 4 with children 9 and 12 according to my stored preferences) and the agent will figure out what it has to do, execute the tasks, and collect and present the results to you.


If you’re having trouble conceptualizing how all the pieces might fit together, the following diagram might help:





To summarize, while chatbots and apps can execute tasks on your behalf, agentic interfaces (or AI agents) can plan and execute multiple tasks to achieve a goal you provide.

So, in the B2C space, the new way many people will interact with the digital world is through the agentic interface, not through the web or apps. Now go back and re-read the previous sentence a few more times until it clicks--this is big. AI prompting will fade away and it will be our agents (Apple Intelligence, Microsoft Copilot+, etc.) that will interact with our devices on our behalf, choosing which apps to call in the background and linking together results to create comprehensive answers, or to take action. The agents will choose which apps to use and set their own defaults where we haven’t expressed a preference, giving them immense power to shift large chunks of business from one player to another.


There will still be plenty of demand for going directly to the web or apps for various reasons, including personal preference and plain old inertia. However, I believe that, as the AI models and agents get better, the numbers will swing substantially toward the agentic interface and away from web/app/chatbot-direct queries.


In my last post here, I mentioned how Google’s new Trip Experience is an example of an agentic interface, but Apple’s implementation takes it much further. Apple is combining, for the first time, a conversational agentic interface with radical personalization based on all the information available on your device. This will be real personalization as we’ve never imagined it, and let’s face it: personalization is an area where the travel industry has historically struggled, even with the basics.



 

So, in the B2C space, the new way many people will interact with the digital world is through the agentic interface, not through the web or apps. Now go back and re-read the previous sentence a few more times until it clicks--this is big.

 

To get a feel for what this would look like, pull up the WWDC recording (here) and look at these two examples:


  • Go to location 1:11:12 in the video for an example of how a delayed afternoon meeting might impact a father’s ability to attend a performance of his daughter’s play.

  • Fast forward to location 1:22:14 to see how a customer could use the AI to find out when her mother’s flight is landing and coordinate with lunch plans.


Now think of all the steps, across multiple apps, it would have taken for each example without the agentic interface. With just a conversation, the customer was able to let the agent navigate through email, messages, maps, etc. instead of doing it herself. The agent completes the goal you present to it rather than you having to perform individual tasks and knit them together into a solution.


The value proposition for Apple Intelligence includes radically personalized recommendations, based on everything the models know about you from your device, including whatever is on the screen in front of you. It also provides scalability with access to onboard (the device) models, secure cloud based LLMs from Apple, and third party LLMs like ChatGPT as in the diagram above. The result provides the best combination of speed, security, and breadth of solution.


There are other companies like Microsoft and Google that will compete in this space, but Apple stands alone in the depth of its default integration for an agent interface. Apple literally sees just about everything on your device, including email, calendar, photos, messages, files, etc., and combines it all into a secured, private index it uses to create a model of you, the customer—and then synchronizes it across all of your other apple devices. To build a similar index and model, Microsoft customers would have to be on windows machines with office 360, including Outlook and teams. You would also have to be running Windows on your phone and tablets. For Google, customers would need to be on Gmail, Google calendar, and use Google’s apps—across all their devices, including Android phones. The advantage goes to Apple for their integrated ecosystem, positioning them to create a single, integrated GAI capability across their entire line of products.


Implications for Travel Companies


Now let’s get back to the issue of moves that could impact your competitive strategy. For B2C companies, the question is how this new agent capability will impact your current business model, and what would have to change to remain competitive. For many, the answer is: plenty. Apple Intelligence will impact B2C customer channels for everything from awareness through support. It will also impact travel companies’ value propositions by upping the ante for performance across their products.


For example, if your business depends on spending a lot on SEM/SEO for lead generation through search engines, what happens when customers run more and more of their inquiries through the Apple Intelligence interface instead? If your business relies of offering customers the products that optimize your profit rather than what the customer truly wants, what happens when the Apple Intelligence’s radical personalization seeks out services that more closely align with what the customer wants? For many companies, a change in competitive strategy will be a must, and the sooner the better.


Finally, consider that Apple devices are costly, premium products, used by people who are more likely to buy those higher-end travel services that suppliers fight to attract, so they’re particularly valuable buyers. And remember that Apple is including all of this for free, and by default, for any customers using a compatible Apple device. Compare that with $20 per month fees for AI access from Microsoft or Google and the story gets even more compelling for consumers.


Potential complications for Apple


The implications of Apple Intelligence may be dizzying, but this stuff is incredibly hard to do, and no one has done it so far. Nobody knows whether it will work, or when it will arrive for sure. Still, Apple has a reputation for waiting until its ideas are fully baked before bringing them out to a public that sets exceedingly high standards for the company. With the launch of the new operating systems in September and various Apple Intelligence capabilities slated for later this year, it won’t be long before we see whether they can pull this rabbit out of their hat--and make it look good. It will also take time for Apple to get more compatible devices into the market—these capabilities require more recent vintage machines to run, so most iPhone users will require an upgrade to pro models for Apple Intelligence.


There is also a chance, and this one’s a real wildcard, that one of the frontier model developers comes out with something that makes it so special that customers want to access it directly rather than under Apple Intelligence. So far, only open AI seems in a position to do this kind of thing. Much will depend on how and when GPT-5 appears, but there is a possibility it could provide a more compelling set of capabilities than Apple Intelligence.


Regardless of whether you think Apple will get it right on the first try, it’s clear that they mean to build out Apple Intelligence until they do. It will also take time for Apple Intelligence to gain traction. Then, too, many Apple owners are passive users who won’t even know Apple Intelligence exists for months after it arrives. However, that only buys a bit of time for companies in the B2C travel ecosystem and it doesn’t change the dynamics of the market. If there was ever a time to revisit your competitive strategy and business model, this is it!




George is a senior executive with in-depth experience in product management, technology, and competitive strategy. George was a co-founder of Hudson Crossing, LLC, a management consulting company dedicated to the travel industry, in 2007. Prior to that, he was Group Vice President of Product Management for Travelport, where he led the strategy, development and management for all products facing Galileo’s North American corporate and leisure agency partners. He also participated in the leadership of several early e-commerce companies including Biztravel.com, Room12.com, and Clickradio.com.


At the end of 2022, convinced that new generative AI models coming out were going to be unprecedented in their impact on nearly everything we do, George left Hudson Crossing to study AI, specifically in its applicability to business, full time. He now advises companies how to best adopt generative AI through his new company, GAIPAN.

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