Airbnb has been perhaps the most transformative technology in travel this decade, providing new experiences for tourists, empowering renters and pretty much singlehandedly taking the sharing economy mainstream.
After undergoing a rebrand towards the end of 2015, the Silicon Valley success story is now relaunching its iPad app as a dedicated standalone tablet app for the first time ever. It has been carefully crafted in order to offer a high-resolution browsing and booking experience to its users — 12 percent of whom are already using the service on tablets.
Leading the redesign is Alex Schleifer, recruited by Airbnb last year, especially for his experience in building responsive sites for magazines. “My passion was always trying to get a print-level experience experience onto digital devices,” he tells WIRED.co.uk. The tablet offers “the most significantly similar” experience to holding a magazine or book and is a “very Airbnb device”, he points out. The casual browsing factor, plus the portability really means the tablet is the device travellers are most likely to utilise both at home and while they are on their adventures.
“After the rebrand we had toolkit of graphics and visual styles that we could start applying and now we are starting to think about the next models of interaction — how people are actually going to be using Airbnb in the future,” says Schleifer. The result is a design in which simplicity and clarity have been prioritised. It will eventually spearhead future innovation across other platforms — namely smartphones and browsers. “The reason for the web navigation changes in the lead up to the tablet launch was so you would feel at home,” says Schleifer.
Features and search
Designed to be used in landscape mode, the new app uses continuous side scrolling and allows you to pull in your personal information from the right-hand side of the screen at any point, providing quick access to your details and bookings.
Search has been redesigned from the ground up, with the much-needed addition of full-screen maps. “The important thing is allowing people to find things,” says Schliefer. “We are always looking at how are the ways we can govern these experiences.”
Messaging has also been overhauled to provide a split screen view that makes it easy to navigate between conversations and have coherent chats with hosts in a similar format to messaging apps like Whatsapp.
Image-led holiday booking
Schleifer says the app is now “much more reliant on photography and searching visually”, and as such there is far more high-res photography across the service that the company has ensured will load even on low bandwidth. The app has also been extensively tested on low-cost tablet devices — not just premium slates such as the iPad. “We wanted it to run so that wherever you were you could get to use Airbnb,” says Schleifer. Even so, the imagery used throughout the app has clearly been chosen specifically to take advantage of high-resolution displays, such as the iPad’s retina display.
You don’t need to look far through the app to understand quite how important photography is to Airbnb and why Schleifer’s background in digital magazines was so integral to the redesign. The company employs its own photographers in order to ensure a consistently high level of photography across the service, and of course sell the properties to potential holidaymakers as best they can. In all it boasts more photos than the Library of Congress.
Search has been a vital element of redeveloping Airbnb for tablets. But, says Shleifer, the app “at the same time needs to work as though it were a coffee table travel magazine”. While the focus is ultimately on booking holidays, Airbnb is fully aware that people spend time on its apps looking for inspiration — for holidays they might eventually want to take, and even DIY projects.
The app homescreen is the perfect example of this. It functions as a “discovery” page, offering carefully curated lists of properties. It’s one example of how Airbnb is weaving together editorial, original photography and curated listings with its search and booking engines in a way that very few other travel companies are yet to mimic.
Some might say that a dedicated Airbnb tablet app is well overdue, but it’s at least great to see the experience launch across iOS and Android simultaneously. The new addition is only likely to boost the company’s tablet userbase, its overall mobile userbase (currently 65 percent of total users) and its relentless upward trajectory.
The app is available to download from the App Store and Google Play from today.