Hipmunk iPhone Calendar

Travel search company Hipmunk launched a new feature today, allowing people to sync their calendars with Hipmunk’s iOS and Android applications. But will these new features help the company make money?

“Largely a lot of our products come from Adam [Goldstein, chief executive officer of Hipmunk] having a frustration with something,” said Jacqueline Tanzella, who calls herself Hipmunk’s “press whisperer,”  in an interview with VentureBeat.

Hipmunk is a direct competitor to travel websites such as Kayak. The company makes airline and hotel search very visual, in the hopes of simplifying what is usually a nasty comparison shopping experience. Part of the annoyances that come with choosing an airline, price, and seat is finding the right time. So Hipmunk developers Danilo Campos (iOS) and Ryan Oldenburg (Android) built a way to see all your calendar events right in line with your airline and hotel search results.

The feature is actually very useful. Search results for flights are already displayed like a calendar, with times spanning at the top of the page. If an event exists during a certain time frame, it will show up in the search results as a colored, vertical bar. A small summary at the bottom of the screen shows what the event is, and the color denotes what calendar it came from (i.e. work, personal).

For hotels, the app looks for location data in your events and plots where your meetings will be on a Google Map. It also plots where various hotels are in relation to that event location. This is particularly helpful for business people headed out of the country for conferences, not knowing where hotels are in relation to convention centers.

But as of right now, Hipmunk’s business model is still all lead-generation based. That is, Hipmunk acts as an affiliate for travel-booking sites like Orbitz, as well as referring customers directly to some airlines. The team, which has officially grown to 15 people, has had its heads down working on the product. But merely having a great product is not always enough to generate sales, which is why the company has expanded its marketing team by four people to attract more users. On the Web side, Hipmunk has “hundreds of thousand of users,” according to Tanzella, and are nearing one million downloads between its iOS and Android apps.

As Hipmunk continues improving its product, however, and starts accessing the phone’s own data to that end, privacy will become an issue. Companies like Path have come under fire for using address books to gain more users, transferring data from the phone to external servers. Campos stressed that Hipmunk’s app does not transfer or store your calendar data in any way, and that all processes take place locally.

“There is no user who is made happy by having their data whisked away and stored on a server somewhere,” said Campos. “The only time we’re going to touch the user data is if we have clear communication about what’s going to happen and why, and the user experience is going to be better for that individual.”

On Android, users are prompted to allow Hipmunk to access the calendar, and when customers update the Hipmunk iOS app, the calendar function will be automatically turned off. Users will have to manually turn it on and allow Hipmunk to grab the calendar data.

As for the future, Hipmunk may move to an ad-supported model, Tanzella said, but that’s not in the cards just yet — especially not for mobile.

“It feels tasteless. Our commitment here is to make the very best tool possible,” said Campos. “I don’t feel like it would be compatible with that mission to shove ads down people’s throats. We have so little screen space.”

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