Mixing Work and Play: The High-Tech Hotel Lobby

Big workday changes have been occurring. Work is not only spilling into our leisure time at home, but also taking over our downtime on the road.

Work has always eaten into road downtime somewhat, often because of communications inefficiencies.

Today overwork is demanded by bosses, globalization, general competitiveness and tight budgets. It’s also a response to the seductive call of the smartphone and tablet — the ease of slipping a device out of your pocket and your head into work mode, to borrow from Everest climber George Mallory, “because you can.”

There’s less dependence on PCs today. Workers now often own their own, highly portable equipment, which they want to plug in whenever they choose. There’s a general lack of formal office policies about using work-owned devices outside of work hours.

These changes, along with a social life now carried out in cyberspace, are rapidly altering the hotel landscape.


The Way It Was

Technology in the old days of business travel used to involve hanging around hotel rooms patiently nibbling left-on-pillow chocolates, waiting for incoming phone calls. Or hanging around for the hotel switchboard operator — who often doubled as front-desk clerk — to place a call. The system frequently failed. There were messages lost because the red lights on phones failed to blink; there was melted chocolate in hair.

As time went on, hotel-based guest technology slowly moved on from the voice and switchboard phase.

The nomadic business traveler then availed himself of the hotel’s fax machine — eagerly awaiting arbitrarily ordered pages to spew forth. Later, the more tech-savvy travelers would dismantle room-phone wall plates in order to attach hulking laptops and portable fax machines — often frying modems because newly installed, high-tech digital switchboards weren’t compatible with analog modems.

During those dark, smoky in-room days, the lodging industry lumped Internet access with the mini bar, pay television and room service as an add-on. It was an inconvenience to manage, but it padded income in much the same way phone calls did way back when.

Today, there’s an about-face.

Business Driver

“Tech used to be an amenity — now it drives our business,” Tony Fernandez, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott in Woodland Hills, Calif., told TechNewsWorld.

The Marriott-licensed Courtyard, which recently opened in this Los Angeleno edge city, is one of the next-generation business hotels. It’s a hotel where it appears that providing connectivity isn’t just an expensive, troublesome annoyance, but one that’s a fundamental part of the hotel’s fabric and business model.

Fernandez kindly gave TechNewsWorld a tour.

The GoBoard

Immediately obvious upon entering the lobby was the large flat-screen informational television located on the circulation route between guest areas and exit — at 55-inches, larger than any I’d seen before upon entering a hotel.

The GoBoard is the Courtyard’s information hub. (Photo: Marriott International)

Courtyard and the screen’s producer, Four Winds Interactive, call it the “GoBoard.” It provides local weather, news and maps. Its vividness contrasts with the earthy, subdued hues of the rest of the lobby. It’s almost reminiscent of focal fireplace in a rustic inn.

“The GoBoard has enhanced the guest experience, allowing the tech-savvy business traveler to access local information, including real-time flight information, and take it with them on their mobile devices,” Kelly Sullivan, director of managed solutions for Four Winds, told TechNewsWorld.

Neat touches include a highly responsive touchscreen and download-to-personal-device functionality via bar codes. Maps include national airport delay status, local restaurants, car rental offices and so on.

Of course, many business travelers may already be carrying that kind of media on their own devices.

Still, “the GoBoard sends a signal that we are high tech,” Janis Milham, VP and global brand manager for Courtyard, told TechNewsWorld.

The information is curated by the hotel and thus has value,” she pointed out.

Plus, the screen relieves pressure on the front desk. Long front-desk lines have been a common feature of classic hotels.

Guests also can access information at the Welcome Pedestals that serve as stand-ins for front-desk personnel.

Self-service Welcome Pedestals can be an antidote to long lines at the front desk. (Photo: Marriott International)

The GoBoard appears to be used more by families visiting the region than hardened business travelers who already have access to travel information, according to Fernandez. Woodland Hills can be a base for attractions like Hollywood, Universal City Walk and other L.A. points of interest.

Four Winds Interactive has more than 670 GoBoards installed worldwide with an additional 175 rolling out in 2013.

Plug It In

Lacking the bling of a GoBoard but of high interest to guests are the outlets that are everywhere in the new Courtyard.

Guests have a variety of seating options with plenty of outlets within easy reach. (Photo: Marriott International)

I gave up counting, but it was obvious that outlets were within reach of every lobby sofa. There were outlets on the Starbucks-like communal table and outlets within the semi-private media pods. There were more outlets in the lounge areas, along with more TV screens displaying broadcast and cable programs. Guests had access to the remotes.

PCs with printers — good for boarding passes — that you’d previously have seen in hotel business centers were dotted throughout the lobby, as were library-like workspaces.

All of these features appeared to be conducive to work, relaxation and socializing outside of the room.

The TV-featured media pods are particularly liked by women travelers who seem to prefer a little privacy, while also being close to where the action is, according to Fernandez.

Keeping Them Close

Back in the day, some cheaper hotels — particularly those in cold climes — would come up with a variety of tricks to reduce the running costs of their guest rooms. One that old travel hands may recall is turning off the room heat to encourage guests to look for something to do in a warm spot outside of the hotel.

Courtyard’s motivation for all this tech-induced goodwill isn’t to nudge guests out of their rooms, though, said Milham. In fact, it’s the opposite. Courtyard wants guests to hang out at the hotel.

“The more they stay around the hotel, the more money they spend,” she said. There is a bistro and 24-hour shop in the lobby too.

WiFi access is all-inclusive — which we used to call “free” — throughout the hotel, both in-room and in-lobby, noted Fernandez.

Guests are getting work done all over the place at all times — even on planes now, with on-board Internet, observed Milham.

“We’re enabling that technology for our customers,” she said.

Providing connectivity for guests is not a perk, it’s a necessity, noted Fernandez, “or they’d leave in droves.”




U.S. Cellular Samsung Galaxy S 4 in stores April 30

U.S. Cellular has joined the chorus of carriers who have selected today to clarify their plans for the Samsung Galaxy S 4. U.S. Cellular has informed us that it plans to begin the preorder process for the Galaxy S 4 on Friday, April 26. Customers who purchase the phone can expect devices to arrive soon because orders will be processed and shipped the same day. U.S. Cellular retail locations will begin the in-store sales process on Tuesday, April 30. U.S. Cellular will offer the Galaxy S 4 for $199.9 with an instant rebate.

Android tablet shipments more than double in 2013

The popularity of the Apple iPad and iPad Mini has made iOS the dominant tablet operating system in terms of shipments and market share. Yet the lead iOS has on Android fell thanks to a surge in activity among Android manufacturers.

Strategy Analytics has issued a report saying that 17.6 million Android tablets were shipped in the first quarter of 2013; that’s up from the 6.4 million reported during the same period last year. Android achieved a 43.4 percent market share, up from 34.2 percent. Though actual sales figures for Android tablets are not available, the estimated number of shipments shows there’s a large increase in tablet development.

Apple likely remains the leading manufacturer in terms of sales, but the gap in market share is not as wide as it was last year. While Apple previously controlled 63.1 percent of the tablet market, it has fallen to 48.2 percent on 19.5 million shipments.

Overall, the tablet market grew 117 percent last year, rising from 18.7 million shipments to 40.6. Growth among Android tablets was even higher at 175 percent.

T-Mobile BlackBerry Q10 open to business customers beginning April 29

The BlackBerry Q10 is coming to U.S. next month, and T-Mobile says that it will register interested business customers for the device beginning next week. T-Mobile failed to offer any details on price or availability of the Q10, but promise to shared that information at a later date. The phone will be in elite company when it goes on sale because it is the first and, so far, only BlackBerry 10 OS device with a physical QWERTY keyboard. Companies interested in purchasing the device will get first crack at the BB10 ahead of the consumer launch to follow next month.

Mighty Microbattery Delivers Lightning-Fast Charge

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a super-dense battery that measures only a few millimeters, but can both store and release a lot of power, resolving a problem that has long plagued consumers and electronics manufacturers.

William King of the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

William King of the Univ. of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign

Capacitors can release power very quickly but can’t store much. Fuel cells and batteries can store power, but release it slowly and take a long time to recharge. The microbattery developed by the team — led by William King, Bliss professor of mechanical science and engineering — can store a lot of power, discharge it quickly and can be rapidly recharged.

The possible uses of the new technology include near-instantaneous recharging of mobile phones, and devices that are 30 times smaller than currently offered. The batteries could recharge 1,000 times faster than existing technologies, The researchers said there is even enough charge in their microbatteries to jump-start a dead car battery, and can then accept a full recharge moments later.

The research was published in the April 16 issue of Nature Communications.

“The active battery material has a thickness of a few nanometers,” King told TechNewsWorld.

“Advancements in battery technology are critical, especially as we face challenges in continuing Moore’s Law in silicon and other parts of the system, such as the displays, consume more of the overall energy budget for mobile devices,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. “We cannot continue to improve performance while reducing power, [and] battery improvements will help offset these challenges while also enabling new form factors such as wearable electronics.”

About the Mighty, Mighty Microbattery



King’s team created lithium-ion microbatteries with power densities that exceed those of the best supercapacitors and are 2,000 times higher than other batteries, said team member James Pikul, a graduate student who developed the microbattery design. Paul published his finding in a paper presented at the IEEE 26th International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) in January.

The team based its work on previous research by another team at the university led by Paul Braun, which developed the 3D nanostructure used back in 2011.

Braun’s team coated a surface with tiny spheres, packed them tightly together to form a lattice, then poured liquefied lithium-magnesium-oxide over it. That dissolved the spheres and left a porous, spongelike 3D metal scaffolding. The researchers then used electropolishing to etch away the scaffold’s surface, enlarging the pores to create an open framework. This framework was then coated with a thin film of active material.

The result was a cathode. King’s researchers created a matching matrix for an anode, using nickel-tin, and developed a way to integrate both the anode and the cathode at the microscale. That kind of microscale integration “is used extensively for displays and televisions, but is something new for batteries,” King said.

The anode and the cathode were fabricated into interdigitated electrodes, which increased their surface area while shrinking the distance that ions flow between them, he said. The electrodes “have a continuous pore network” with a diameter of about 100 nanometers. They are formed into fingers about 20 micrometers in size and spacing. The micrometer-scale design of the electrodes and the integration of the anode and cathode give the microbattery its high power density.

Ion Flow Between Microelectrodes in New Microbattery Technology From Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ion Flow Between Microelectrodes in New Microbattery Technology From Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The processes used are “similar to those used at large scale in industry,” King noted.

The Microbattery’s Potential Impact

The microbattery developed by King’s team “is good but not a game changer,” McGregor told TechNewsWorld. “Lithium-ion batteries are still subject to thermal runaway issues during charging. We need a better and safer technology.” Thermal runaway refers to overheating problems with batteries.

“Battery technology has lagged due to limits in materials and chemical technology,” he said.

Silver-zinc batteries “have been a viable and safer option to lithium-ion for years, but they do not have the investment,” McGregor added. “Any improvement requires massive investment for production.”

Google CEO teases Motorola phones

Google had a surprising start to 2013 by reporting that it earned a $3.9 billion profit in the first quarter, up from $3.3 billion during the same period in 2012. Google subsidiary Motorola Mobile was a drag on the company with a $179 million loss on $1.02 billion in revenues. A lack of new products to compete with rivals like Samsung, HTC, and Apple left Motorola with limited sales influence, but Google is still looking forward to what’s next from its subsidiary.

CEO Larry Page said:

In today’s multi-screen world, the opportunities are endless. Think about your device. Battery life is a challenge for most people. You shouldn’t need to carry around a charger with you to make it through the day. If your kids spill their drink on your tablet, the screen shouldn’t die. And when you drop your phone, it shouldn’t shatter.

There’s a real potential to invent new and better experiences – ones that are much faster and more intuitive. Having just seen Motorola’s upcoming products myself, I’m really excited to see the potential there. in just under a year, they’ve accomplished a lot and have impressive velocity and execution.

Several rumors about Motorola’s upcoming phones have spread in recent months. While some originally claimed that the fabled “X-Phone” would have genre-leading hardware, others have suggested that Motorola could embrace hardware customization and focus on enhancing the software. The validity of either rumor won’t be confirmed or disproven until Google I/O in May. Based on Page’s comments, we can reasonably assume that whatever Motorola shows in the coming weeks, enhanced battery life, some form of water resistance, and shock absorption will be among the features of the device.

Google reportedly offers search results changes in EU probe

oogle has proposed an overhaul of how it displays search results in Europe to allay concerns that the Web giant is abusing its dominant position in the market.

The search behemoth, which was put under the European antitrust spotlight in 2010 after rivals lodged allegations of anticompetitive behavior, submitted a package of concessions with the European Union last week but its details remain under wraps. Critics and competitors have accused Google of anticompetitive behavior, promoting its own services in search results over those of its competitors.

In its proposed remedy, Google has offered to “make users clearly aware” when the search giant was promoting its own specialized products through special labels, a person familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the deal. When it does promote one of its own services, such as Google+, the Web giant has also promised prominent display of at least three relevant links to rivals’ services, such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, the Journal reported.

However, that provision would not apply to some of Google’s specialized-search sites, such as Google Shopper and Google Flight, in which participants pay for listings, the Journal reported. Although in those cases, rival specialized search sites can pay for placement.

As with its recent settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Google would allow other sites to remove their content from specialized, or “vertical,” search sites. Also, as with Google’s FTC settlement, the search giant’s prized search algorithm would be unaffected.

A person familiar with the matter told CNET that Google’s proposal had been accepted and that market testing of the concessions would begin soon.

Google declined to address the Journal’s report, stating, “We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission.”

EU competition chief Joaquin Almunia told the New York Times last week that Google had submitted proposals he hoped would help consumers better identify when Google was promoting its own products over those of competitors. The package of concessions was reportedly submitted as Google faced a new round of antitrust scrutiny from the EU, this time for Android.

A new complaint was filed by Fairsearch Europe, a group of companies that includes Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle, accuses Google of using Android “as a deceptive way to build advantages for key Google apps in 70 percent of the smartphones shipped today.”