Apple's new iPhone presents challenge for tech-savvy hotels

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Will the iPhone 5’s lack of compatibility with alarm clock docking stations cause sleepless nights for some lodging operators?

That’s what some hospitality analysts are wondering amid big presale numbers for the new smartphone, which will go on sale in Apple retail stores later this week.

In recent years, some hotels within brands such as JW Marriott and Sheraton have pitched their tech-friendly accommodations by promoting alarm clocks with docking stations for iPhones.

For future owners of iPhone 5’s, however, that amenity may become useless. Apple is making the iPhone 5 compatible with its Lightning dock connector, which is about 20% the size of the 30-pin connector used on previous iPhones. As a result, the iPhone 5 is incompatible with the 30-pin connector built into alarm clock docking stations.

Hoteliers are confronted with the choice of buying new clocks, springing for Apple’s $29 Lightning dock connector or not providing iPhone 5 owners with compatible docking stations. (Reports were surfacing Monday that non-Apple vendors were planning to sell Lightning dock connectors for as little as $17 through sites such as Amazon.com.)

HenryHarteveldt“Hotels will start to face a meaningful number of guests checking in with the new phones by Thanksgiving,” said Henry Harteveldt, principal analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “Hotels, unfortunately, have no choice but to explore their options to buy adapters.”

The issue is relevant because frequent travelers are more likely to own smartphones than those who don’t travel as often, and because Apple is expected to sell a lot of iPhone 5s.

Apple said Monday that the company sold more than 2 million iPhone 5s within the first 24 hours of its availability during the presale, more than double iPhone 4S sales when that device went on sale last October.

Bloomberg News, citing analysts, reported Monday that Apple may sell as many as 58 million iPhone 5s by the end of the year.

Apple will start selling the iPhone 5 at its 356 U.S. stores on Friday. Apple is pricing the phone at $199 for the 16 gigabyte model and $399 for the 64GB version. The smartphone is lighter, has a bigger screen display and processes information faster than its predecessors.

Meanwhile, software developers are ensuring that iPhone 5 owners are included in the group of consumers that may use their phones for travel-related purposes. OpenWays, which makes software that allows smartphones to double as electronic hotel-room keys, last Friday said that its Mobile Key product can be used by iPhone 5 owners.

Apple’s propensity for mandating that its consumers buy new products to ensure compatibility may work in hotels' favor.

“Fortunately for hotels, this is a situation where the guest will be able to commiserate with the hotel,” said Harteveldt. “Chances are the guest has several devices at home that are designed for the original iPhone and iPod connectors.”

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.

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