In the smartphone manufacturer travel sweepstakes, Research in Motion is first to market, beating Apple's much-anticipated iTravel, in launching the Blackberry Travel app, which comes with an API and travel industry partner program.
The free app, developed by WorldMate and in beta, features travel planning, booking, itinerary management, and push notifications of flight status updates, as well as LinkedIn integration to search for the sharing of travel plans with business associates.
There is also a desktop component to Blackberry Travel, enabling users to book flights and car rentals from their computers.
WorldMate founder Nadav Gur says the app's desktop feature is in keeping with RIM's push to widen its services beyond the Blackberry and new PlayBook tablet.
The app, which is available to Blackberry users in the US, UK, Canada and Spain, is drawing participation from major travel industry partners. A Blackberry Travel API enables users to access travel partners' mobile sites for information and itinerary details.
RIM and WorldMate, which offers its own itinerary management service, are teaming to bring travel industry partners into Blackberry Travel. WorldMate is serving essentially as the travel arm of RIM in its dealing with travel industry partners.
Several travel industry companies already are on board -- or are preparing to team with RIM.
The Expedia Affiliate Network provides hotel booking for the Blackberry Travel app, Travelport says it will work with RIM to introduce the app to the corporate market, and United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Hilton Worldwide plan to join the party.
"Blackberry Travel is a superb tool for travelers who want the most accurate and pertinent information delivered promptly and reliably," says Kurt Ekert, Travelport's chief commercial officer. "We look forward to working with RIM to introduce Blackberry Travel to the corporate market and believe its integration will continue to enable our travel management company clients to serve their customers even more effectively."
Jim Tobin, senior vice president of software and services at RIM, also chimes in, arguing that the app "represents a great opportunity for travel industry leaders to work with RIM to delivered enhanced services and better travel experiences for their customers and new revenue opportunities for travel providers."
Unlike most itinerary management apps, like TripIt's, for example, there is no need to email itineraries with the Blackberry Travel app.
When travelers receive a booking confirmation or an itinerary arrives by email on their Blackberry phones, the app automatically updates the itinerary with trip details, RIM says.
Blackberry users can opt to integrate itineraries into their calendars as soon as confirmations are received.
In fact, the app also identifies scheduling conflicts, missing hotel stays and other issues, and provides users with suggested remedies, RIM says.
The Blackberry Travel app is believed to be the first travel app branded by a smartphone manufacturer.
While the app must be dowloaded today, it would be a logical next step for RIM to build the app into upcoming Blackberry models, widening distribution for RIM and its travel partners.
In fact, Gur of WorldMate says RIM is working with wireless operators to pre-install Blackberry Travel in their devices.
While Apple has filed patents for iTravel, Apple has never talked about its intent -- or lack thereof -- regarding entry into the travel industry.
The entry of smartphone manufacturers -- whether it is RIM or other manufacturers, including Apple -- could have huge implications for the travel industry.
If mobile becomes the travel transaction tool of choice in the future, RIM, Apple and others could gain considerable power as they evolve their travel offerings.
Might some even get further into the travel business themselves, becoming merchants of record or huge distributors like the GDSs of today?
Back in the real world for now, Blackberry users can download the Blackberry Travel app here starting Feb. 14. The app is compatible with Blackberry smartphones running Blackberry 5 OS device software or higher.
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Gur elaborated on Travelport's role in Blackberry Travel. In addition to Travelport giving its travel management company clients the ability to integrate their customers into Blackberry Travel, RIM also aims for Travelport to provide booking technology, including itinerary changes.
Blackberry Travel eventually will be compatible with PlayBook, Gur says, but he declined to provide a timetable.
And, what of RIM's role in the travel industry?
RIM couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
But, Gur says he believes RIM intends "be a Kayak rather than an online travel agency."
In that regard, "coming soon" for partners who hook up to the Blackberry Travel API will be click-to-call buttons for additional travel services, Gur says.
In other words, RIM doesn't intend to be a travel agent, but hopes "to play a part in the value chain," improving the mobile travel experience with improved search as well as booking services provided by agency and supplier partners, Gur says.
WorldMate, of course, offers its own itinerary management apps for iPhone, Android, Windows mobile, Nokia -- and Blackberry.
Gur says prime differences between WorldMate's itinerary management app for Blackberry and the Blackberry Travel app are in the back end, addressing the partner API, scalability and security.
The RIM user interface for Blackberry Travel is new, as well, Gur says.
Residents of the US, Canada and the UK can get more information about Blackberry Travel if they register for a Blackberry Beta Zone account here.