James Kruper is the president of Analytical Design Solutions Inc., which develops KioWare kiosk software. To submit a comment about this article, please e-mail the editor.
As the owner of a company that publishes kiosk system software and develops custom self-service kiosk applications, it has been interesting to me to watch the convergence of the digital signage and self-service kiosk industries. Although kiosks are typically designed for interactivity and digital signage is not, it is apparent to me that the kiosk industry has a lot to offer to digital signage.
Digital signage gives the opportunity for signage to evolve from static to dynamic; static branding can become animated, a static advertisement can become a video commercial, maps can be instantly updated with latest information, and current news can be easily displayed. Perhaps most importantly, content can be readily modified.
With the convergence of digital signage and self-service kiosks, now dynamic digital signage can become interactive. Self-service kiosk applications exist to provide a seamless user interface, enabling a kiosk user to perform a task. Similarly, the digital ad that draws a user to the kiosk can now be extended to enable the user to find out more information about the product and ultimately place an order. Or, a user can drill into a ticker tape news item and read the complete story. The ability to make digital signage interactive enables more information to be transferred ultimately improving the ROI of the deployment.
The first inkling of things to come occurred several years ago when LCD display prices dropped to enable kiosks to economically have second monitors – typically a big, beautiful widescreen LCD mounted above the kiosk. This gave the kiosk deployer an interesting choice. The second monitor could be used to enhance and expand the functionality of the application running on the primary monitor - for example, by providing context sensitive help, displaying detailed product information, or providing additional dynamic branding for the kiosk. Or, the second monitor could be used as an independent revenue stream by selling advertising.
Whereas, advertising had long been sold for display on a kiosk's primary screen especially for display during periods of inactivity, the second monitor enabled constant advertising exposure and most importantly during periods of kiosk activity, when a potential customer is at the kiosk and most ready to be influenced.
Interactive Pandora's Box
While making digital signage interactive has many obvious benefits, it also opens up many self-service kiosk issues that need to be addressed. The most important include the need for the user to be kept away from the operating system and network, to clear the user's confidential information, and to reset the application after the user leaves. These are significant requirements to add to a digital signage application but fortunately long ago solved by the kiosk industry, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
As with self-service kiosks, the only thing worse than having a digital signage installation broken down, is not knowing your digital signage installation is broken down. ROI is a key determinant of the success of a project and when a kiosk or digital signage unit is sitting with a dark screen, ROI plummets. Fortunately, the kiosk industry has a solution whereby the kiosk regularly pings a centralized server saying â€˜Here I am alive and well' and typically sends a statistical snapshot of its health for proof. When a kiosk stops pinging, the centralized server sends out the alarm. The technology is readily transferable to a digital signage installation.
Similarly, the nature of digital signage is one of dynamic content and the requirement for content to change regularly. Depending on the complexity and size of the digital content and the quality of the internet connection, content can be hosted either locally at the digital signage location or at a remote server. When content is hosted locally, there needs to be a robust method to update content. Once again, this dilemma has been resolved within the kiosk industry, and the technology is readily transferable to a digital signage installation.
Not just a one-way street
Lest one believe that only the kiosk industry has technology to share with digital signage, the digital signage industry has helped the kiosk industry in at least one way by popularizing the concept of a computer on a wall. The first digital signage implementations were generally a display unit hooked up to a DVD player or to a closed circuit media network, but especially with the advent of PCs small enough to be packaged onto the back of a display unit, digital signage displays are more commonly PC driven which receive content directly from the Internet. Similarly, self service kiosk applications are increasingly either wall mounted or desktop displays instead of being floor mounted, thus freeing up valuable floor space and increasing viable installation locations.
One source of instability that plagues both kiosk self-service and digital signage is the quality of digital media players. Whereas the typical industry standard media player was designed for a user sitting at their desk playing a video file over a relatively short period of time, the media player in a kiosk or digital signage application must play a video for an extended period of time, perhaps measured in months.
Many industry standard media players and/or codecs are not up to the task of extended play. They tend to leak memory and resources in a manner that a user sitting at their desk would not notice, but can bring a kiosk or digital signage application to its knees over an extended period of time. In the kiosk industry, sophisticated kiosk system software monitors these applications and when necessary restarts the application or reboots the computer; however, the user experience of having an application freeze due to depleted system resources, then get restarted by the kiosk system software is not ideal, and it would be far better for everyone involved if the industry's media players/codecs were better written.
In summary, as digital signage applications move toward increasing interactivity, I believe the self-service kiosk industry has a lot to offer the digital signage industry and the convergence of solutions is a positive step forward for both industries.