iPhone-friendly Royal Connect has room for expansion.
The creation of Royal Connect – Oasis of the Seas’ innovative communication and tracking system – wasn’t as simple as it’s been for passengers to operate the Apple iPhones that brought it to life.
There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world – thanks to DeFi Inc., Scottsdale, AZ, technology and global network service provider that is the creator and brains behind the operation on the Royal Caribbean ship.
Royal Connect allows cruise passengers to track and locate family and friends – including children in the Adventure Ocean program; make restaurant, spa and show reservations; and keep up with activities onboard the world’s largest cruise ship.
However, to get the system ready for the 225,000-ton ship’s December debut involved more than flipping a switch.
The entire ship had to be prepared, wired and mapped for the Wi-Fi system, and meant taking different software solutions and integrating them into one specific application. Wi-Fi is used because traditional GPS- and satellite-type navigation is impractical on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean.
While the ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean back in November preparing for its USA debut, a team of experts put the finishing touches on the heat mapping and GPS triangulation on the Wi-Fi access points throughout the ship that takes if from Star Trek fantasy to 2010 reality. Media members and travel agents served as guinea pigs during a series of non-revenue cruises.
It’s already working quite well, thank you, with passengers readily forking over $17.95 to rent each device for a seven-day cruise; and remember that chances are a family will rent at least two.
Now that Royal Connect is up and running, the possibilities are intriguing.
“The feature set that you currently see on Royal Connect is what we consider Phase One – the basic functionality,” says Jeff Rice, director and CEO at DeFi Inc. “We hope that with the partnership with Royal Caribbean we will be able to add more features, more interesting things that will attract the users to not only want it more, but to use it more.”
Royal Caribbean is fairly tight-lipped about other applications for Royal Connect, but just walking deck to deck onboard Oasis of the Seas – with never-before-seen cruise ship features – is assurance that whatever the line comes up with is going to work.
DeFi pitched the idea to other cruise lines that loved the concept but weren’t prepared to make it happen. Leave it to Royal Caribbean to figure out a way, and with the technologically marvelous Oasis of the Seas under construction at the time, the deal was struck more than 19 months ago.
“I’m not an expert on the cruise line industry,” Rice says, “but I know Royal Caribbean makes a pretty strong statement – especially the chairman – that he believes their business is well positioned to be innovators in the industry, both on the technical side and obviously with the size of the ship they just launched.”
The two companies are now working on plans to replicate Royal Connect and bring it to the rest of the Royal Caribbean fleet – a daunting task, but a challenge they’re confident will be met. The wiring on Oasis was put in place during construction – just as it will be on next year’s sister ship Allure of the Seas. Fitting other Royal Caribbean ships with Royal Connect is akin to adding central air conditioning to an existing house.
On land, families and friends regularly keep track of one another via cell phones, texting and email. DeFi simply applied that dynamic to venues and Royal Connect was born.
“The concept is, if you’re taking your kids or your family and you’re going to a place where there’s always congestion and confusion … wouldn’t it be nice to have a fully integrated solution for people to know where each other are, to be able to communicate, to be able to navigate?” Rice says.
And for DeFi, which has a patent on location-based navigation within a venue, there are no plans to stop at cruise ships when the opportunity presents itself.
Rice sees the system working at theme parks, ski resorts, museums, conventions and much more.
“There’s hundreds – if not thousands - of different venues that this application would apply to,” he says. “It’s all powered by DeFi, so all the software is ours, all the infrastructure is ours.”
Royal Connect works simply enough for passengers onboard Oasis of the Seas. The iPhone was selected because most people are already familiar with the device’s easy operation – even children.
Rice says his six-year-old daughter knows more about the iPhone than he does.
“You have to hitch your wagon to something, and obviously Apple’s not a bad one to latch onto at the moment,” says Rice. “But we keep close tabs on what’s coming down the pike and different opportunities. The technologies have advanced significantly.
DeFi president Dave Thomas points out that just two years ago, the iTunes App Store didn’t exist. Today, it’s a way of life – and there’s an application for just about anything you want.
“Devices are getting smarter,” Rice says. “You’re going to see some real cool devices coming out.
“How we apply our software to those operating systems into different venues is going to be very scalable and very exciting from a revenue perspective.”