A cruise through the Mediterranean takes you by ancient wonders and beautiful vistas, but a 12-day cruise also means you’ll be spending some serious time in your stateroom. In the past, that was restricted mostly to sleeping or watching a few pre-recorded channels on outdated technology, but today you can watch live TV, a wealth of movies and shows, or even check out details about the ship and your trip without leaving your room.
Two Seattle-area companies are working together to bring those updates to cruise lines around the world. In a partnership announced today, Kirkland-based UIEvolution is providing an updated technology system called ExperienceManager on Seattle-based Holland America Line‘s cruise ships.
ExperienceManager allows cruise operators to deploy HTML5-based applications to any device and update them through its cloud-based platform. Anything from video-on-demand to detailed maps of the next port can pulled up on just about any screen on board.
By using HTML5, a standard web language, Holland America can easily find developers to build applications. Previously, Holland America needed to get in touch with their technology provider to make changes to their programming or applications.
“We said that seems arcane and slow,” UIEvolution CEO Chris Ruff said. “And the market today is moving so fast from a technology standpoint that we wanted to put rich cloud-based tools in the hands of the … cruise providers so they could make those changes dynamically on their own.”
Before ExperienceManager, Holland America relied on radio frequency broadcasts for on-ship entertainment. That meant movies broadcast in 480i resolution and limited selection restricted to a few channels with no on-demand options.
“It could be a PowerPoint presentation [of the day’s activities] or a very poor-quality video,” said Holland America’s director of fleet IT, Jason Grant. “The [new] software on top of high-definition smart TV and new broadcast equipment has provided a modern experience for our guests.”
The benefits extend to the captain, stewards and other ship employees as well. For a crew that travels back and forth on the same routes over and over again, the comforts of home are sorely missed. This new system provides them with modern entertainment when they’re not working.
“They couldn’t stop raving about it,” said Grant, who had just gotten back from a cruise.
ExperienceManager isn’t restricted to staterooms either; digital sign boards throughout the ship are controlled by UIEvolution’s technology. This allows a restaurant to show off kid-friendly specials on a screen at lunch and easily switch to the soccer game from a satellite provider that afternoon.
UIEvolution had previously brought user-customizable media packages to hotels, with a similar focus on applications and the streaming content that customers have come to expect. In 2013, the company partnered with Holland America’s sister brand Princess Cruises to starting improving the sailing experience.
The main challenge in upgrading the system for sea-going vessels was an intermittent internet connection. The cloud-based system has to wait for a connection to download updates to apps and content, but the content also has to be stored locally for uninterrupted playback.
“We had to move the software to the edge of the cloud,” Ruff said.
The service is now available on five Princess Cruises ships and Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam, which sails routes in the Mediterranean Sea. The software package will be added to three more Holland America ships this spring.
In addition to hotels and cruise ships, UIEvolution provides customizable, cloud-based solutions for managing content to retail establishments and automakers. The company secured $8 million in funding in 2013 to focus on the automotive industry. Ruff said that UIEvolution will look to raise another round of capital later this year as the company grows its automotive options. The company employs about 170 people worldwide.