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Airbnb's new iOS and Android apps promise to help you live like a local

Detailed neighborhood info and guidebooks may keep you off the over-traveled tourist path.
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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky just took the stage at a lavish event held in the company's San Francisco headquarters to introduce new apps for iOS and Android that he says are a reflection of the company's philosophy to let its users "live" in the places the visit, not just view them as tourists do. "We asked people what the number one reason they travel on Airbnb, 86 percent said they want to live like a local," Chesky said. The new apps are meant to further that goal and keep people from cookie-cutter "drive-by tourism" -- what Chesky said you get when you just follow a guidebook or TripAdvisor recommendations.

The new apps further this goal in three ways. The first is a new "matchmaking" system to help you find hosts that fit with you. Furthermore, it helps the hosts hone in just the type of people they want staying in their home, as well. "Every time you do a search, we learn more about you," Chesky said, "and through machine learning the searches become better, higher quality and more relevant to you." What data specifically Airbnb is using to match you with your hosts isn't entirely clear yet, but the idea is that everyone who searches on Airbnb will get different results based on their profile and history.

That idea extends to the next major new part of the app, the neighborhood matching system. Much like hosts, every time you search you can tell the app what types of neighborhoods you're looking for (central, walkable, family-friendly and so forth) and it'll return results based on those criteria. The program includes with 691 distinct neighborhoods in 23 cities, all covered with pretty excellent photography to give you a feel of what the place it like. When you view a particular neighborhood, you can scroll down to see places to stay based on the criteria you've entered.

It's worth nothing that Airbnb launched its neighborhood system way back in 2012, but now it's directly integrated into the app itself. Presumably, as you use the app and its neighborhood system, it'll get better at recommending places for you to stay. The company has touted its massive data set in the past as a way to help hosts get more bookings, and it seems like that data will also be used to make the guest experience better as well.

The last component of the app sounds like the most useful -- host-created guidebooks will now be integrated right into the app. At the neighborhood level, you'll get to see what local hosts recommend as the best things around for travelers to check out. It definitely sounds like the kind of thing that'll further Airbnb's goal of helping its users feel more integrated into the city they're visiting.

It sounds like these new apps are just the tip of the iceberg for Airbnb's mission to make its users feel more like locals, as well. Chesky ended his presentation with a quick video and a tease of a November announcement that would take Airbnb "beyond the home" -- it sounded a lot like he was teasing a broad rollout of the Journeys pilot program that the company started last fall. For now, though, the apps will have to suffice.

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