Hands on: Kiosk London 2012 review

Low-cost Android-based players were in strong evidence at Kiosk London this year

Low-cost Android-based players were in strong evidence at Kiosk London this year

This month at the Barbican Centre’s exhibition halls in London, a group of companies gathered at Kiosk London 2012 to show what they know about self-service kiosks. Looking around the exhibits, I would say that kiosks and interactive touchscreens are now synonymous. Smartphone interaction was a significant part of the discourse, of course, but the other growing trend in this market is the use of dongles or Android mini-PCs to turn simple flat screens into digital signage displays.

Touchscreens are a key enabler technology for kiosks. They are intuitive almost everybody, from children of a tender age up to senior citizens, knows how to use their fingers to scroll and pinch technique. Still, it is surprising to see that in many places self-service kiosks are not so ‘self-service’; they still require supervision from store staff standing by to offer assistance. Some work is still needed on the usability side of these solutions.

But the show was not about people developing software for kiosks; it was more about the screens, clever kiosk configurations and solutions, and some media players.

Viru Patel, Fit-PC sales manager at andersDX, introduced me to the company’s fanless Intense-PC. The mini computer comes with Core i7 Ivybridge CPU, dual-headed Intel HD graphics and customisable Function And Connectivity Extension (FACE) modules. FACE modules are extension boards that integrate seamlessly into Fit-PC3 and Intense-PC to provide custom functionality and I/O extensions, implemented with an internal extension board and a simple sheet-metal panel. The extension board is connected to the PC motherboard with two board-to-board connectors featuring standard interfaces such as PCIe, USB2, SATA, and SMBus.

The company was also exhibiting one of its multi-touch displays with an embedded PC controller as a kiosk solution, but the display I found most attractive was its iDisplay tablet. It looks like an iPad and works like one, but it’s an Android table. Size options vary from 7″ (17.8cm) to 21.5″ (54.6cm); it contains a built-in camera and can be used in portrait or landscape mode.

My nose then led me to Airgoo and its Olfactive Spirit Pro, an aromatiser that can be fitter with different capsules to enhance corporate or brand identity through the sense of smell. Airgoo was also presenting its new MicroPlayer, a fully integrated Android-based digital signage player. The wireless internet-connected dongle comes with an integrated HDMI interface and self-power capability from a USB output, able to turn any flat-panel television into digital signage.

Franco-German point-of-sale solutions creator Vision & Synergies came to the event with a ‘virtual and physical’ combination in the form of a 40″ (101.6cm) touchscreen, which was integrated with a webcam and IR reader to provide a clever retail proposition. Using the touchscreen, customers could browse the catalogue at their own pace. But what happens if what you need to find is a small connector and you don’t know what its name is? With this screen you can scan the object and call a customer service person directly via Skype. Not only this, the assistant can then up-sell, offering the customer other products that are related to the one they were looking for.

Japanese screen manufacturer iiyama had the best resolution screens at the show, in my opinion. The company has been manufacturing screens since 1973 and these 40 years of experience have paid off. iiyama not only has single- and multi-touch panel solutions, but the 42″ (1.06m) slim-bezel LE4262S panel with IPS really caught my eye. IPS stands for In-Plane Switching technology; it has been developed to use on LCDs to solve the main limitations of these screens such as slow response times, narrow viewing angles and low-quality colour reproduction.

As part of this industry, there were also companies that sell and distribute POS- and kiosk-compatible printing devices, barcode and RFID scanners, such as Kestronics, which was was showing a very light Android PC available for a mere £50. Credit card payment enabler company VeriFone had a large stand and, amongst other offerings, was showcasing a neat petrol station kiosk. And Box Technologies had on display a large mirror-like gesture-operated interactive screen, where a few gentlemen at the show had the opportunity to try on some glamorous gowns.

Visitors to this show counted for quality more than quantity: just over 720 people attended the show but it included companies such as Tesco, John Lewis, Camelot Group and the Post Office. Next year’s event will be on October 16th and 17th 2013 and will return to the Barbican.

First published 29 October 2012 – Output