Airbnb finally gets an Android app, reworks mobile features

by Phil Hornshaw

Airbnb had a fairly good 2011 despite a few troubles, and as it goes into 2012 the accommodations-finding web service is expanding its mobile outreach, starting with an Android app.

The service formerly was only available online and on Apple’s iOS platform, where it has had an app available for about a year. But in expanding to Android, as TechCrunch reports, Airbnb has reworked its entire mobile experience with an eye toward reaching more customers and providing more services. While the iPhone app has been popular, seeing some 500,000 downloads and around 125,000 active users of the social service, Airbnb says its biggest complaint has been the lack of an Android app.

Airbnb is technically a travel app, although it doesn’t help facilitate flights or car rentals like others in the category. Instead, Airbnb focuses on helping users find accommodations when they arrive, and it does so through a bit of social networking. It’s a “community marketplace,” meaning users log-in to both offer accommodations and to find and book them. That allows Airbnb to show off places to stay that have some pretty reasonable prices, and it also touts the ability to book your accommodations day-of through the app or website.

In making the jump to Android, which the company notes enjoys some 48 percent of the smartphone market worldwide, Airbnb hopes to expand to become more of a global service. Already the app covers more than 19,000 cities in 192 countries, and it’s expecting its user base to double with the expansion to Android with compatibility for more than 100 devices and in five different languages.

The Android app offers users a lot of quick and easy functions, as well. It’s possible to make reservations, decline reservations, message users and post about properties and accommodations on offer through the app, set prices and keep track of guests. Airbnb has also reworked its web app for mobile as well – so even if you don’t have the Android native app, you can still use your smartphone or tablet to make use of a host of features through a mobile web browser.

Airbnb saw some success and some failures in 2011, with a bit of a PR debacle that resulted after a guest trashed the home of someone using the service to supply accommodations. But after the initial struggle by the customer to get help from Airbnb’s side, the issue was resolved and the company has strengthened its efforts both in terms of safety and support. Airbnb has had time to learn from its mistakes and to make its entire service better before jumping to Android, and users should benefit from the time spent learning the ropes on iOS before expanding to the larger user base on Google’s platform. And it sounds like there are even more updates in the pipe that will continue to expand Airbnb’s service.