Apple Enterprise sending thousands of Macs into hotels, cruise ships

in General Discussion edited January 2014
Apple's Enterprise Sales Group has been quietly installing thousands of iMacs, Mac minis, Mac Pros, and Xserves in hotels and cruise ships in a new push to bring the media rich experience of Apple's retail stores to the hospitality industry, where hoteliers are seeking to deliver personalized, unique experiences that will impress guests and bring them back for more.

Ten thousand Macs in front of luxury customers

In June, Fontainebleau Resorts announced plans to install 24" iMacs in all 1,400 rooms of its Miami Beach property now undergoing a $500 million renovation, as well as the 3,889 rooms of its new $2.9 billion, 63-story luxury resort in Las Vegas opening next year. The UK City Inn Group unveiled similar services for its hotels in Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and London, noting on its website, "you get what you should always expect: iMac computers, free wi-fi and Sky in every bedroom."

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines began installing Mac minis in its floating hotels three years ago, starting with two of its 3,600 passenger "Freedom Class" ships. That includes the "Freedom of the Seas," the world's largest passenger ship ever built. Royal Caribbean is also building an IT infrastructure from Apple's hardware on its Solstice Class ships for Celebrity Cruises, as well as two of its own new $1.24 billion Oasis Class ships, which will accommodate at least 5,400 passengers each and assume the title of the world's largest passenger ships when completed a year from now.

Those massive infrastructure deployments, involving up to 16,150 Ethernet drops per ship, a 10 gigabit network backbone, thousands of client Macs and racks of Xserves, are adopting Apple's hardware for the same reasons the luxury hotels on land are: Mac hardware and software offers a differentiating end user polish while being easy to manage.

Not a hard sell

Hotels have actually asked for Apple's help in bringing iTunes-style simplicity to their luxury accommodations. Many hoteliers are "struggling to reach the digital demographic" and "to differentiate themselves," explained Bradley Walker of Nanonation in a seminar on Macs in the hospitality industry. "You've been to the Apple Store," Walker said. "If you could recreate that in a hotel, that would be a very attractive place to stay."

Nanonation is working with Apple to bring its technology to cruise ships, casinos, convention centers, and both large and boutique hotels. The initial applications have involved digital signage and display walls, which typically provide large format, one-to-many information services. Nanonation has also begun leveraging the unique software features of Mac OS X to build interactive solutions for lobby or pool side concierge service as well.

Installations in public locations can remind a guest of a spa appointment, allow them to order drinks, or make a service or restaurant reservation. Personalized services for the iPod touch and iPhone are also in development. "We're really excited about what Apple's done with the enterprise SDK," Walker added.

Scratching the Surface

Last summer, Microsoft floated its Surface product concept as a way to deliver attention-grabbing interactive kiosk services in hotels and retail stores. Some appeared in AT&T retail stores this spring, and earlier this week, Surface installations were announced for five Sheraton hotels in the US.

However, the 30" Surface form factor (a YouTube parody of the Surface advertisement called it the "big ass table") uses an expensive combination of video projectors and scanners to deliver its kiosk services, making it too expensive (around $10,000) to install outside of a few public areas.

Apple is working to install its computers everywhere in the hospitality industry. In addition to freestanding iMacs in rooms, the smaller Mac mini is being promoted for installation in public kiosks and for use with standard flat screen televisions as a sophisticated set top box. The Mac Pro is used to drive larger display walls and digital signage, using Quartz Compositor to create programatically designed visuals that interact with feeds from external data sources and respond to input devices or music. The iPhone and iPod touch are also being used to deliver personalized customer-facing services.

Differentiated by Apple

In addition to public kiosk information services, Nanonation has also worked with Apple to develop its customizable Nanopoint software to enable hotel properties to tailor in-room virtual concierge services built around an iMac in every room. For example, the systems can provide walking directions to attractions, details on local nightlife, weather reports based on updated feeds, and offer local services such as spa appointments.

While most competing systems are based around a web browser, Nanopoint on the Mac moves away from the browser to deliver a richer media experience. Leveraging Mac OS X's graphics compositing tools, the software can present video with interactive controls and animated elements to deliver an impressive experience. Hotels typically just provide guests with a remote control to flick through cable channels and sometimes a custom video on demand service, but digital and HD TV tuners frequently take a moment to present each channel.

Apple's server technologies can support HD content with fast channel changing and an elegant presentation with video previews (below top), integrating episodic TV with video on demand as well as customized music services that remember guests' preferences and present player controls right on the screen, composited over full motion video with drop shadows and reflections. Nanonation also demonstrated Chat services between hotel guests (below bottom), such as those traveling together or attending the same convention or other event.

On page 2 of 2: Not just a pretty face; The Xserve side; Cruise control; Tools for large Mac deployments; and iPhone for the other enterprise.

Not just a pretty face

Beyond the rich interface, Macs also provide a hotel-friendly hardware sophistication that PCs or set top boxes typically don't. "Stylistically, the guest facing hardware has to be beautiful," Walker said. "The iMac is a great example of something that just looks wonderful in a room. It immediately elevates the opinion a guest might have of a room when they see that piece of art sitting on the desk."

On the IT side, it's also important that equipment is up and running for the guest and easy to maintain. "The beautiful thing about the Mini," Walker noted, "is that it is interchangeable. It can be used to drive digital signage in the lobby. It can drive interactive touch points in other places, or it can drive the in-room experience on the large format television. If something goes wrong or you need to replace it, the same box goes into each of those locations, making it very easy to administrate from an IT perspective."

The Xserve side

On the server side, Nanonation developed CommandPoint as a flexible, expandable server management tool for Mac OS X Server. CommandPoint handles user interaction communicated between the server and guests' client Macs running the Nanopoint software. It also manages kiosks and digital signage systems, and serves as a central tool for uploading content, scheduling playlists, creating layout templates, and monitoring the real-time health of each player on the network.

Other Mac OS X Server Xserves in a typical hotel installation run AJA video injest cards to capture content from satellite feeds. QuickTime Streaming Server and Wirecast are used to composite video streams together and deliver it to guests' Macs over the network. A single Xserve can deliver HD video on demand to 200 users.

Additional Xserves are used as admin servers to handle network services, as well as file sharing and Xsan metadata. The servers are connected via a Fibre Channel switch to a Promise RAID unit. Mac mini and iMac client machines are linked up via high speed Ethernet.

Cruise control

In addition to in-room entertainment, Macs are also being put to work to deliver public area interaction. Digital interaction systems were the first application of Macs on board Royal Caribbean's cruise ships. Two 65" touch screens installed in the ships' spa and fitness center were designed to provide interactive guest services narrated by a live action personal trainer (below top) and a spa specialist (below bottom), filmed in HD and composited into the interactive menus.

Other Mac driven display systems on the ships offer to provide wayfinding services (below) to help guests find points of interest on the gigantic ships or obtain information on shore excursions or other guest services. Additional systems are installed in the ships' broadcast center and IT data center.

Tools for large Mac deployments

Royal Caribbean's vast Mac installations have to interact with existing IT system and protocols. The ships' networks use Multi Protocol Label Switching to enable class of service (CoS) tagging for prioritization of specific types of network traffic. That traffic management helps to push out thousands of concurrent multicast and video on demand streams.

The network multicasts both video streams and ASR (Apple Software Restore) remote imaging, allowing admins to wipe and reinstall a clean, 3.5 GB software image on a thousand Macs in five minutes. The ships' Macs can also be remotely configured via Unix commands, making it easy to roll out software updates or perform housekeeping operations.

iPhone for the other enterprise

While the iPhone has been getting a lot of attention in the offices of Fortune 500 companies, the hospitality industry is also interested in the iPhone and iPod touch to deliver a handheld experience that integrates with the personalized presentation and guest services features already being supplied to in-room desktop Macs.

Apple demonstrated the potential for wireless retail ordering systems in its Starbucks integration with the WiFi iTunes Store. Developers are now working to build similar location sensing services for ordering drinks, accessing reminders and messages, and other services related to a guest's stay.

The iPod touch is not only cheaper than most other handheld kiosk systems, but its also easier to develop custom applications for, looks classier when handed to guests for their use, and supports rich media playback, web browsing, and standard WiFi networking, something few PDAs, smartphones, or other specialty devices can manage all at the same time at a similar price point.

Putting the iPod touch and iMacs in front of well heeled customers on vacation can only help accelerate Apple's push into the consumer market; the company already holds 66% of the market for retail PCs over $1000. The public exposure afforded by its retail stores has had a tremendous impact on the company's sales in the US and in other markets where stores have opened.



  • Reply 1 of 58
    foo2foo2 Posts: 1,077member
    22" iMacs?
  • Reply 2 of 58
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 2,005member

    It sure would be nice if OSX becomes the standard backbone for this type of thing...

    This might be a great way to get more enterprise experience for Apple too. The standard business/office environment is so tied to Windows that it has a great deal of inertia...
  • Reply 3 of 58
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 2,005member
    Originally Posted by Foo2 View Post

    22" iMacs?

    ... Suprise!!

  • Reply 4 of 58
    I hope Royal Caribbean has changed their WiFi on the boats.

    Two years ago the wife and I went on the Eastern Caribbean trip and brought our MacBook and iBook G3 with us. In order to use the MacBook, I needed to drag EXPLORER over from the iBook via the ethernet cable I never leave home without. Their WiFi set up wouldn't even accept FireFox as a browser to log in.

    It would be nice to go to the Computer Library on board and use a Mac min instead of the PC's that they had. Damn things kept crashing and would log me out for no reason whatsoever. Had to use them because the WiFi signal was about as bad as trying to connect in a building made entirely of concrete and lead lined walls.
  • Reply 5 of 58
    boogabooga Posts: 1,082member

    I hope Royal Caribbean has changed their WiFi on the boats. ... Had to use them because the WiFi signal was about as bad as trying to connect in a building made entirely of concrete and lead lined walls.

    Or a building made entirely of a steel superstructure with segmented steel hulls.
  • Reply 6 of 58
    boogabooga Posts: 1,082member

    I hope Royal Caribbean has changed their WiFi on the boats. ... Had to use them because the WiFi signal was about as bad as trying to connect in a building made entirely of concrete and lead lined walls.

    Or a building made entirely of a steel superstructure with segmented steel hulls.
  • Reply 7 of 58
    Originally Posted by Booga View Post

    Or a building made entirely of a steel superstructure with segmented steel hulls.

    What I was getting at was, wouldn't you think they would have multiple base stations through out the ship due to the fact that there is so much steel.
  • Reply 8 of 58
    I saw this firsthand at the Grand Beach Resort in Naples, FL. They had at least 6 iMacs in the lobby and bar area. Needless, I felt right at home.
  • Reply 9 of 58
    cubertcubert Posts: 728member
    It looks like Apple has been doing some stealth sales pitching. I wonder if they have a whole division devoted to this. It's not really Enterprise but Enterprise + Entertainment.
  • Reply 10 of 58
    quinneyquinney Posts: 2,528member
    Those are some impressively ambitious projects. It seems there are

    some very appropriate uses of the Mac Mini within the hospitality

    industry. I hope it means we will see the mini line upgraded again

    during my lifetime. Congrats to the IT people who pushed these

    projects through, when the path of least resistance would have

    probably been to propose a Windows based solution (s.i.c.).
  • Reply 11 of 58
    charkocharko Posts: 84member
    This article warms the cockles of my heart.
  • Reply 12 of 58
    When Bill Gates starts installing these mac systems in Canadian National RR diner cars and sleepers and the Hotels the RR services (Banff Springs, Chateau Lake, etc.) Ballmer knows he's in trouble.
  • Reply 13 of 58
    I recently took a cruise on Oceania cruise lines. They had Wi-Fi in select areas (library, computer lab, around the pool & cafe, etc.) as well as a computer room with desktops & laptops.

    The internet usage was billed at $0.95 / minute (that's $57 per hour) and it was slow.

    I brought my iPhone and had planned to use my iPhone on the ship and in port, but didn't get much use because of the high price of the onboard ship wi-fi and the hard to find wi-fi on land. I turned off the phone (edge) as I didn't want any roaming charges.
  • Reply 14 of 58
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,773member
    Now PLEASE Apple work on the real estate industry that still churns out MLS databases that refuse to work unless you run IE on Windows!! VMWare works well but many wouldn't need it if these morons would write modern compliant databases that were platform agnostic.
  • Reply 15 of 58
    It sounds like good news to me. I didn't even know that Apple had an Enterprise Division. It doesn't sound like a huge number of Macs, but every single one counts.
  • Reply 16 of 58
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,564member
    This is an excellent area for Apple to be in. People who go on cruises and spend time in higher end hotels, and other establishments, are more likely to be interested in buying one of Apple's products after arriving back home (if they haven't already done so).

    In addition, Nanonation seems to have its act together with this sophisticated software and services. A company that Apple should think of acquiring.
  • Reply 17 of 58
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

    Now PLEASE Apple work on the real estate industry that still churns out MLS databases that refuse to work unless you run IE on Windows!! VMWare works well but many wouldn't need it if these morons would write modern compliant databases that were platform agnostic.

    You can say that again! My parents are both realtors in Florida and need access to the MLS. I finally convinced them to go back to Mac after a decade with Windows after I convinced them that the MLS will work with a Mac just fine. I knew there would a solution, I just didn't know how involved it would be. My parents are techtarded so any solution has to be simple.

    My first action was to change the User Agent for Safari and Firefox in OS X. That didn't work. The next one was to try IE5.5 for OS X. That didn't work, either. Not wanting to confuse my parents with the Matryoshka doll system of running Windows XP in Parallels on OS X I tried CrossOver for Mac. That was promising. It supported IE6 (which is just good enough) and allowed me to install Flash 7 and ActiveX. I left their place a couple days later after having my mother try every exhaustive test she could think of. Perfect! Or so I thought. She hadn't tried to print until I after I left and the printing wasn't turning out properly formatted.

    I haven't been back so I have no idea how it looked or if I could resolve it. I had her put the Parallels IE7 shortcut in her Dock that I had set aside incase something unforeseen occurred. They really seem to be stuck with using a MS proprietary setup, but that hurts them. It would be great if one could get MLS on their iPhone or have an app that could connect directly to it (only requiring the FOB for access). It would be great if a system like Skyfire was setup for MLS.
  • Reply 18 of 58
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Does Apple have a decent networked account system setup? The article mentions easily exchanging a Mac Mini, but what about each hotel guest getting a account that can be access from any kiosk? Something that is maintained on the server, not of the Mac itself.
  • Reply 19 of 58
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,564member
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

    You can say that again! My parents are both realtors in Florida...

    Whoa! Good luck to them. not the best time for a realtor in Florida.
  • Reply 20 of 58
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post

    Whoa! Good luck to them. not the best time for a realtor in Florida.

    They are essentially retired so they do it mainly for the sake of staying active so they aren't really looking for work.
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