Expedia To Roll Out New Hotel iPhone App Designed By Mobiata

4/5/11Follow @xconomy

Ben Kazez needs a place to live. Preferably a warehouse loft he can rent somewhere in Ann Arbor, MI. A quiet place where he can finally grab some ZZZZs.

You can forgive Kazez for neglecting his living situation. Since selling his startup Mobiata to online travel giant Expedia (Nasdaq:EXPE) last fall, Kazez has been hard at work developing Mobiata’s first product for his new employer—so much so that he still resides in a noisy building that deprives him of sleep.

There’s a lot riding on Expedia Hotel, a free phone app that will launch on Apple’s iPhone this month. For the first time, Expedia customers will be able to research and book hotel rooms directly through a native app designed for a smartphone. Normally, they must use the phone’s mobile browser to access Expedia.com.

Hotels are the largest source of revenue for Expedia, based in Bellevue, WA. In 2010, hotel revenue (mostly commissions from bookings made through the site) grew 11 percent to $507 million, or about 63 percent of Expedia’s overall business. The company said total revenue jumped 16 percent to $808.4 million, mostly driven by hotels.

Kazez, a boyish-looking 24-year-old computer science graduate of Carleton College, recently demonstrated Expedia Hotels to me over lunch in downtown Ann Arbor, not far from Mobiata’s office.

The first thing I noticed was the eye-popping, high-resolution photos of hotel rooms. That seemed to please Kazez, since photo quality was one of Expedia’s top priorities. The other was a streamlined process that allowed Kazez to quickly book and pay for a hotel room in four steps.

There were also a bunch of minor improvements to Expedia’s Web-based reservation process, seemingly unnoticable on their own. But add them all together and you get an enjoyable user experience, Kazez says.

Expedia Hotel is only the first step in the company’s Expedia Everywhere mobile device strategy as it rolls out additional apps for iPhone and Android phones.

U.S. smartphone sales are expected to grow to 95 million units this year, according to the research firm Gartner. By comparison, mobile PC shipments will total 50.9 million in the United States compared to 45.6 million from 2010.

In addition, Gartner identified mobile search, defined as a visual-based product search to compare prices and check information, as one of the top 10 mobile applications to watch in 2012.

“To bring mobile search to the next level, the [ideal] app would allow users to take actions based on the result, such as making a call or reservation, buying a ticket, placing an order, and so on,” the Gartner report says. “Gartner advises search providers to build the experience around mobile to allow users access to immediate results and to take actions, given the short time span users have.”

Mobiata, which operates as a separate subsidiary of Expedia, is the essentially the brains behind Expedia Everywhere. The company’s work on Expedia Hotels will eventually show up in airfare, car rentals, and entertainment bookings.

Ideally, Kazez says, Expedia customers will one day search and book everything through one integrated platform on their phones.

To make that happen, Mobiata is currently on a hiring binge. Thanks to Expedia’s deep pockets, Mobiata has at least 25 positions open, mostly for software engineers.

With the extra help, perhaps Kazez can finally find that dream apartment.

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