Ambient cruises

Future distributed

Resorts and cruise lines are embracing ambients to enhance their guests’ experiences and improve their own operations. Disney’s MagicBand and Carnival’s Ocean Medallion maybe the best publicized, but all the cruise lines leverage ambient technologies to eliminate distractions and friction that distract from the experience they want to convey.

The cruise lines design these systems so that you won’t have to pay much attention at all to the logistical details of travel. That all you remember is your wonderful experience– infused with a curiosity about what other adventures your cruise line might offer in the future, whether it’s on another cruise or perhaps at a partnering resort. This future is distributing.

Your ambient cruise

When you book your cruise for the first time, you’ll download the cruise’s app to your mobile and smart watch.  This may be all you’ll need, or perhaps you’ll receive a small jewel-like medallion in the mail that you wear as a bracelet, pendant, or simply carry it in your pocket. This enables the ship and her crew to recognize you.

On arrival, your check-in and baggage handling is effortless. Royal Caribbean aims to get you from your “car to the bar in ten minutes”. With Carnival’s Medallion you can order that drink with a mobile app and it will find you, whether you make it to the bar or stop at the pool. Grab a souvenir on the way and present your wrist to pay. Stop for some entertainment and the musicians will adjust their playlists based on your and fellow audience members’ preferences. Safety drills are fast and if there’s an emergency, the crew will find you if you have problems. Sleep undisturbed, your room will be cleaned when you leave, no knocking or signs required. Crew members recognize you and address you by name even though it’s your first time on this ship.

Enjoy excursions that suit your sense of adventure. Find an uncrowded romantic lounge or a raucous nightclub, a mobile app or the ship’s displays will help you find your way. You won’t get lost unless you want to. Your memories will not be tainted by a lost bag, a long line, or a missed opportunity. You decide you’ll return, and when you do your favorite drink will be waiting.

Creating your experience

While you are relaxing, behind the scenes the ambient technologies are improving the efficiency of the ship, crew, and the cruise itself. Employees are directed to the crowded lounges. Housekeepers move efficiently between unoccupied rooms. Safety checks require fewer crew members. Less food is wasted. Fewer staff are able to deliver superior experiences. Employee satisfaction rises as they handle fewer complaints and focus on personalizing and enlivening your journey.

Your next trip

Your next trip is even smoother. Your vacation starts a little earlier. A car appears to transport you to the airport. Another is waiting when you land to whisk you to the ship. You don’t even touch your luggage. On board, the crew knows you, though it’s a different ship,. Your cabin is close to your favorite activities. It is always the perfect temperature.  It responds to your questions and adjusts to your requests. The trainer in the ship’s gym knows your workout requirements.

Excursions will be just right, perfectly matched for your interests, pushing your boundaries just enough or not at all. Your wireless headphones will guide you both on the ship and on the shore. Keep your head up and eyes open, you’ll have all the details you want but won’t be lost in a guidebook or on your phone.

When you return home, pictures from the cruise appear in your photos library. Images captured from your adventure that you couldn’t possibly take. Selfies for social media without using your camera. Books for your coffee table, organized into different themes and drawing form past cruises.

Your future experiences

A little further in the future, the lifestyle and conveniences of your favorite cruise line might extend into your daily life. Some will draw directly from the experience of your cruise. Dishes you discovered on board become favorite recipes. Wines you loved are delivered. Your next resort, restaurant, and hotel visits may recognize your cruise medallion or wearable app and provide you with the same personalized service. Your social circle will expand to include people who shared your adventure and experience, even if at a different time. Your adventures may become a foundation for your evolving community, one still from your local environment, now informed by and connecting to the world by your experiences.


The emerging cruise experience in a New York time article.

Disney’s MagicBand, a few years old but still relevant in-depth look from Wired.

A Miami Herald reporter enjoys a Carnival Medallion cruise.

USA Today also hops on board with a Medallion.

Cruise industry news looks at the Medallion as a precursor to the smart city.

Apple Watch’s ambient app

Apple announced two significant ambient apps for the Apple Watch this past week, the Fall Detector and Heart Rate monitor. In keeping with the amorphous nature of ambient apps, the word “ambient” never appeared but ambient they are and worth analyzing through that lens. For this post, I’ll focus on on the Fall Detector, though the commentary could apply equally to the Heart Rate Monitor.

This is a next big thing?

In a presentation the Fall Detector was underwhelming– it’s difficult to get excited about people who have fallen and can’t get up. Yet there’s massive value there, which will be clear when an ad one day appears recollecting how the fall detector saved a life. Hidden value is characteristic of many ambient apps because when an ambient app is any good you won’t even be aware of it at all.

As an ambient app

The Fall Detector can be analyzed as a wearable app, a healthcare app. It’s also worth examining the Fall Detector several common elements shared by ambient apps.

  1. Executes an ambient decision cycle
  2. Requires no user awareness or interaction
  3. Transforms a Product → Service → Experience

Executes an ambient decision cycle

The Fall Detector uses advanced sensors to detect a hard fall, determines if you are ok, and if not, sends an emergency call and notifications to people who can help. So it’s definitely an ambient app: it recognizes a need for help, anticipates how to provide that help, and takes action to contact people who can help– all without user awareness or intervention.

Collaboration: an opportunity

In the current app, there’s collaboration with established contacts but none with other devices. It’s possible that in the event of a fall people nearby might notified to serve as good samaritans. They might be other people with the app, the watch, or even other devices in the Apple ecosystem such as the iPhone.

This offers an interesting dynamic. If you wear the watch and engage the app, you automatically become part of a mutual support system. Taking it a step further, the app could also coordinate a response between nearby actors– it could determine who’s best qualified, who’s capable, who’s available, and what further instructions you need to provide real help. This could be a great way for advanced ambient tech to coordinate and foster humanity’s better instincts and take smart wearable tech beyond the narcissistic selfie or FB post. For Apple, it would be another terrific reason to join its ecosystem.

Requires no user awareness

As with other ambient apps, the user interface is not involved in the Fall Detector’s operation– it’s only there for setup and settings. The user is completely unaware of the app’s function until it brings help.

Product → Service → Experience

The Fall Detector app also transforms how a need (help after a fall) is fulfilled (in many instances, help is not provided at all). It shifts the form of need fulfillment from a product or service (e.g. a Life Alert device) to an experience that requires no conscious effort. In the case of a serious fall, a service is engaged on your behalf, yet all you’d know about is the experience of receiving help.

What to watch

With the Fall Detector Apple adds value and revenue streams to the watch in the near-term while continuing its careful steps towards building health care related revenues. From an ambient app perspective, it’s evidence that ambient apps could find early traction in health care applications, where the delivered value is very high and user awareness and intervention may not exist in any current form. It’s also indicative that for decentralized ambient apps, wearables will be a significant platform.  And the Fall Detector hints at a corollary: ambient apps may deliver the consumer value required for wearables to fulfill an early promise and emerge as the next mass consumer device.