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Interactivity Driving a Convergence of Kiosks and Digital Signage

With the advent of interactive touchscreens, the lines between kiosks and digital signage are becoming increasingly blurred. That shift has been in the works for years, but price declines and advances in technology are speeding up the process.

Today, many digital displays are touch-enabled, offering the ability to touch the screen and elicit some type of reaction, whether that be to obtain additional information or to input personal data. At the same time, kiosks are incorporating digital displays as a way to deliver additional information or otherwise add value to whatever transaction they perform. Those value adds range from marketing content to a connection to a live representative.

With many digital displays performing the functions of a kiosk and many kiosks incorporating digital signage, at the end of the day there is little difference between the two. Instead of being separate applications, kiosks and digital signage are blending together into a new world of customer-facing technology.

“The world of digital signage has long overlapped with kiosk software, though it is typically seen as an add-on feature or application for use with kiosk system software,” Laura Miller, director of marketing at KioWare Kiosk Software, wrote in Kiosk Solutions Magazine. “Digital signage has a long history of non-interactive usage, but only in more recent years have both the deployments and the software needs entered the world of interactive digital signage, allowing users to interact with the application.”

Continued growth

The numbers vary, but Gaithersburg, Maryland-based research firm Statistics MRC pegged the global interactive kiosk market at $1.2 billion in 2014, with the market poised to grow by nearly 15 percent a year to reach $2.88 billion by 2022. Drivers of that growth include increased customer interest toward self-service, rising demand for security related applications and development in the retail and entertainment industries.

The retail industry makes up the largest share of the market, capturing more than 40 percent of the global interactive kiosk market revenue. Innovations in touch screen display and glass technology has led to highly instinctive kiosk designs, which is also expected to propel industry growth over the near future.

And the growth of interactive digital signage is equally as impressive. According to research firm Markets and Markets, the market for interactive digital signage is expected grow by 12 percent a year over the next five years, reaching $15 billion by 2020.

Encouraged by the swiping, pinching and tapping gestures that operate our smartphones, consumers now expect to be able to touch the screens they see and get a reaction.

“You walked up to an informational display in a hotel, shopping mall or retail establishment and you instinctively tried to tap, swipe or pinch the screen to find whatever information you were in search of,” Jeff Hastings, CEO of Los Gatos, California-based media player provider BrightSign, wrote in a blog post on Digital Signage Today.

“And when you realized the screen wasn’t interactive, you became frustrated,” Hastings wrote. “We’ve all been there. We’re so accustomed to interactivity on our phones and tablets that we simply assume all screens will be just as dynamic, and we’re surprised when they’re not.”

One of the main areas where digital signage is playing a role once reserved mainly for kiosks is in wayfinding. MTA NYC Transit, which operates the subway and bus network in New York City, has installed nearly 150 touchscreen displays in 30 stations around the city as part of its “On The Go” initiative, reaching more than 1.5 million average weekday riders in Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan and Queens.

Tap the screen, for example, and a subway map appears. Touch any point on the map and the screen displays the best route to reach your destination. And because New York is an international city, the touchscreens employ an interface that is heavily dependent on icons, graphical elements and visual cues for universal ease of comprehension. The 47-inch interactive screen, which employs capacitive touch technology, is encased in a stainless steel kiosk located at subway station entrances, in station mezzanines and on platforms.

Thanks to the success of the program, the transit authority plans to add nearly 200 additional kiosks throughout the system in the coming months.

The next step

It’s not enough, though, to simply place a kiosk or digital sign in a high-traffic location and wait for an interaction. Customer-facing screens are adding value by delivering content geared for specific types of customers.

Cameras mounted on digital displays can be used for anonymous video analytics, determining the gender and approximate age of those pause to look at the sign. Knowing if the main viewers of a particular display between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. are men about 50 years of age can help the deployer slot content geared for that age group, while knowing that from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. the main viewers are teenage girls might help determine that a content change is needed during those times.

Motion sensors mounted on displays can be used to trigger content when a customer approaches, and RFID tags mounted on particular products can prompt a display to show more information about that item when a customer picks it up.

For applications such as telemedicine or remote customer service, a digital display can be outfitted with a camera, microphone and speakers to allow for two-way communication between consumer and deployer. A user might connect with a doctor, for example, to allow for a remote diagnosis, while a financial institution might have a single loan officer assisting customers at multiple locations.

And incorporating a card reader allows for customers to swipe their licenses for identification of pay bills with a credit or debit card right from the display.

Cellular and/or Wi Fi connectivity is allowing for displays that can be placed in locations where a hard-wired connection may not be available and make it easy for displays to be moved or rearranged on a whim.

As kiosks take on many of the functions of digital signage and vice versa, the next evolutionary step is the integration of those technologies with the screens people are already carrying in their pockets.

In New York, for example, MTA NYC Transit is exploring the use of mobile and other connective technologies as part of its expansion of the On The Go network.

Beacon and Bluetooth technologies are helping to drive that integration, enabling an interaction between digital signage, kiosks and consumers’ personal devices. Customers can receive information, discounts and promotions on their mobile devices, while at the same time providing info to the kiosk or digital sign that allows the screens to deliver personalized content to the viewer.

Imagine, for example, walking through a retail location and passing through the men’s wear section. A digital sign communicates via Bluetooth or Wi Fi with an app on the customer’s smartphone, and recognizes that the customer bought a suit in the past few weeks. Based on that information, the digital sign displays a tie that happens to match that suit, and a discount is delivered to that customer’s phone.

This technology opens the door for customer engagement in a way never seen before, Hastings wrote.

“Businesses establish a direct connection with their customers, and customers feel empowered to request digital signage content that is relevant to them,”

Hastings wrote.

“Customers can interact with signage in a way that’s familiar to them, and the communication between signage and mobile devices is becoming seamless.”

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