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Three things to know about tablet charging and synching stations

By Andrew Govek

Retailers and hospitality brands are fast approaching the most mobile influenced holiday season yet, and those testing tablets are focused in on customer experience. Businesses are still in the early stages of figuring out their tablet strategies, and we know some are giving less attention to the back room essentials – specifically the charging and synching of multiple tablets.

The typical tablet battery lasts 8-10 hours, a bit shorter than necessary to get through an extended day. That means businesses with self-service and assisted selling tablet programs have to plan for how they're going to keep them running. We'd like to think it requires more thought than just stashing them in a pile next to an available plug or PC.

We've written our fair share at FMA about the customer experience part of a tablet program and what goes into creating the right kind of tablet display and the thoughtful branding that should go with it. It's time to offer a few tips on the part the consumer doesn't see – the charging and synching station.

Here are some details to consider:

1. Secure Charging Area: Depending on the venue and how many people have access to the area where the tablets will be charged, it may be advisable to lock them up. One method of locking is a small cabinet that holds multiple tablets, has multiple charging cords and one locking door. Another method is a cabinet with multiple individual charging bays, each with a separate lock.

Instead of a cabinet, a more open tray design with multiple charging slots could be used. This method could have free access or have a locking feature. If you choose to use a standard keyed lock then only certain authorized personnel would hold a key. You can also use a card swipe device with a solenoid to unlock the main door or each individual door and program the lock to accept only bar codes from designated ID badges, credit cards, etc.

2. Mobile Device Management (MDM): In addition to charging tablets when not in use there is also the question of synching the tablets. It is important to have the ability to wipe the tablet clean of any personal information, particularly if there are consumers using the tablets to shop. In order to properly erase all previously entered data the charging/synching station would need to have a circuit board and small PC added with programming designed to accomplish this task. This feature adds noticeable cost above and beyond a simple charging station.

In addition to the elimination of personal data there is also the need for updating software, downloading the latest version of applications and general refreshing of content. To accomplish this involves additional software like the Apple Configurator or other PC based MDM programs.

3. Tracking Charge Status: Another feature that can be added to the simple charging station is a visual charge status indicator. By adding additional circuitry with LED indicator lights you can easily identify which tablets are fully charged and ready for use. This indicator will save the time of removing a tablet from the charging station and booting it up enough to see what level of charge it has. Some tablets readily show on screen battery life status while others do not.

A retailer or hospitality venue that allows tablet PC's to be used by employees and/or consumers will need to plan for charging, synching and storing the tablets when not in use. The success and endurance of a tablet program will depend not only upon the strategy at work in the front of the house but also upon having a system in place that keeps tablets ready for use.

Andrew Govek is a senior project manager at Frank Mayer and Associates

This commentary was oringinally published on the FMA blog.

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