The end of the Hotel Receptionist?

Smartphone technology will get some hotel guests straight into their room – without having to check in at the front desk

Empty receptions could soon be the norm if smartphone technology takes off

On arrival at your hotel, would you prefer to bypass reception, make your way straight to your room, wave your smartphone over the lock and hey presto, you’re checked in?

The answer will probably depend on how far you’ve travelled, the reason for your stay, and what generation you are.

For a certain kind of traveller, it’s almost certainly going to be a reason they’ll choose one kind of hotel over another.

It’s been talked about for a while, and it’s nearly here

Virtual keys, powered through an app that uses Bluetooth technology on your smartphone are being trialled and perfected by a handful of hotel chains. They signal the end of lengthy check-in queues for weary travellers, and the frustration of hotel key cards fails after you’ve dragged your bags half way across the hotel.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts in the US have been working on their virtual room key for months now. The app isn’t released yet, but they’re asking for people to ‘opt-in’ to register for the pilot. They’re confident that it will be a game changer for the industry, and as an early adopter, a real opportunity for them to carve out a distinct position.

Hardly a coincidence then that have chosen to trial the technology in their Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California, which is just around the corner from Apple’s headquarters.

But not everyone is convinced.

The attempt to streamline the check-in process isn’t new. Some hotel chains introduced check-in kiosks in their busiest hotels, but to mixed results. They found that many travellers just ignored them, preferring to speak to a real person.

Leisure travellers, more so than the business travellers, tend to look for a personal welcome to their hotel experience. If it’s a planned trip away, or a special occasion, the guest will want to interact with staff to try for an upgrade, or request a room with a view for example. And if they don’t know the area, they’ll have more questions than most – which will be far quicker answered by a person than an app.

‘Ease and convenience’ also means less to the older traveller, who won’t necessarily be as au fait with the technology on their phone.

The potential danger

Although Starwood Hotels sees the virtual keys as a key guest attraction method, particularly for regular travellers, the opposite could also prove to be true.

Given how competitive the hospitality industry is, one of the only ways that establishments can genuinely differentiate themselves is through their customer service and brand experience. If guests are bypassing the opportunities to experience those – won’t the hotel just become faceless, and the same as everyone else?

Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between. There is no shortage of hotels offering the ability to check-in online, in the same way as you would before boarding an airline. Those guests then go to a different check-in desk to pick up their key, presumably avoiding the queues at the main check-in desk. Then guests get to experience convenience and customer service.

Whatever the answer is, you can expect smartphones to truly live up to their name in the next few years.

Smartphone technology is already the biggest news in access control since biometrics

From an access point of view, smartphone technology is poised to take over from physical items like ID cards or access key fobs/tokens. And it’s going to happen soon.

You can already use your phone to prove your identity to open the car park barriers at work, enter your office and gain access to a festival or event. Its success is obvious: it makes sense to use the one thing that the overwhelming majority of people always carry with them.

What do you think about checking into your hotel via an app? Would you use it? We’d love to know what you think.




Smartphones and biometrics: we’re all ears

The iPhone 5S was the first. Their Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the lock-in screen heralded the beginning of biometrics security as part of smartphone furniture.

But it was easily hacked just two days after the phone went on sale in September last year.

Germany’s famous hacker team, the Chaos Computer Club, were able to create a fake fingerprint from a rubber mould that could then be used with a real finger to unlock the phone.

Another German team, Security Research Labs, have just done the same with the Samsung Galaxy SF, released earlier this month. You can see the video here.

More serious consequences 

Unlike the iPhone, the new Galaxy’s fingerprint scanner does more than just unlock the phone – it can also authenticate payments via PayPal. Which is all the more worrying from a security point of view, as the hacker could be successfully making payments directly into their own bank account.

And there is no limit to how many times you can try to fake it, like there is with the iPhone.

The point being that it gives a would-be-hacker a much greater incentive to create a fake fingerprint in the first place.

But is it really likely?

Is your average Joe really going to lift a high quality fingerprint from clean glass, scan it at high resolution, clean it up and then print it on to latex rubber?

Probably not. As evidenced by the fact that there haven’t been any recorded cases of the method being used beyond the hacker’s tests. Yet, anyway.

So do the ears have it?

Not content with fingerprint or iris biometrics, DesCartes Biometrics has just developed an ear biometric lockscreen app designed exclusively for Android smartphones. The president and CEO of the company, Michael Boczek talks about the convenience of the ‘most natural of phone gestures – lifting your phone to your ear’:

An individual user simply lifts the device to their ear and presses their ear to the touch screen to authenticate and unlock the device. By combining the most natural of all phone gestures – lifting your phone to your ear – with the unique geometry of your ear, Descartes Biometrics has created a robust and reliable mobile device security solution that is easy to use, non-invasive and non-distracting.”

Currently you can get it on Amazon apps and Google Play.

We can definitely see the logic and the benefit of a different biometric approach to fingerprints. Especially as, in the words of Frank Rieger, spokesmen of the Computer Chaos Club, “it is plain stupid to use something that you can´t change and that you leave everywhere every day as a security token“.

But do we really care that much about biometric smartphone methods in general? Is it still just a bit too early for adoption – especially at $3.99 a pop? It’s one thing if it comes as part of the phone, another if you have to fork out hard cash for it.

We’ll be watching the downloads with interest.


One password your kids can’t memorise

Samsung are the latest to add a biometrics feature onto their new smartphone.

Galaxy S5 smartphone
New biometrics feature authenticates mobile payments

The Galaxy S5, which is currently available to pre-order, will feature a fingerprint scanner in the same way as the Apple iPhone 5 does, with the main button on the front doubling as a scanner to unlock the device.

The security feature won’t just help to protect the phone from unwanted access if it’s lost or stolen, it can also be used to authenticate payments, as Samsung has partnered with Paypal to offer ‘payment-by-finger’.

That’s one way to stop the kids from buying something they shouldn’t on your Ebay account.

Is biometrics the future in mobile payments?

This new feature is a talking point, but can we expect this type of techology to become commonplace?

Mobile payments as a concept is proving to be slower to catch on here than was predicted. Market analysts have been saying ‘this is the year’ for nearly a decade, but in the US, only 3-7% of consumers currently use their phones to buy goods in a shop.

Mobile banking is popular, but actually making a mobile payment, for example paying your bill in a restaurant via PayPal, is taking a while to get off the ground. But making person-to-person transactions via your mobile phone is growing, and nearly twice as many consumers are using mobile payments now than they did last year.

Is biometrics the stumbling block?

The kids don’t mind

There is still a real reticence amongst consumers about the use of biometrics technology, particularly when it comes to payments. Iris scanners, fingerprint scanners and even the newer palm & vein scanners all generate concerns that primarily revolve around privacy and the potential for misappropriation of data.

Those with a darker side worry about the lengths thieves might go to in order to steal your biometrics password: severed fingers, gouged-out eyeballs etc.

But is it merely a generation thing?

For those who have grown-up with the technology, a fingerprint scanner is commonplace. The fact that it’s now part of the latest smartphones makes it part of the furniture. Much in the way that they’re used to being able to stop and rewind live TV (“you mean there was a time when you couldn’t?”), it will become normal to authenticate payments with their own body.

School rules ok?

Many schools, particularly in the US, are looking into biometrics methods to ensure the safety and security of their students. A biometric solution brings a whole host of advantages in terms of access control. Unlike smart cards that can be passed around, stolen or misused, a fingerprint can’t.

There is naturally caution over the introduction of such a system, but most opposition comes from the school administration and parents – not the kids themselves.

After all, using the fingerprint scanner on your smartphone to pay for lunch, take out library books and get in the building isn’t just convenient, it’s kinda cool.

Get used to it, it’s the future

As the oft-quoted Douglas Adams said, in describing our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

So it’s only a matter of time.