One week, two shows: European Sign Expo and Marketing Week Live

Electronic paper displays are creating new opportunities in indoor applications, such as internal communications

Electronic paper displays are creating new opportunities in indoor applications, such as internal communications

At the end of June, London hosted two large shows relevant to the DOOH industry, doing battle during the same week: European Sign Expo (ESE) and Marketing Week Live.

ESE, held at Excel, was an appendix of FESPA and, as with all appendices, it could be removed without causing any life-threatening harm. The show’s aim was to unite traditional, manufactured signage items with digital signage, showing off displays, media players and everything in between that might be needed to increase adoption, particularly in DOOH. However, it failed to attract many of the big players, leading to criticism before the show had even opened.

The companies in attendance did make a considerable effort to meet these objectives. Inurface Media promised and indeed showed a wide range of displays on a packed stand duly representative of this significant company in the UK supply chain. Display Solutions integrated, well, solutions from partners Intevi and Neo Advertising, while iBase demonstrated 4K displays using Dise software. This latter company also previewed its new S1-64, a four-input DVI signage player, plus an eight-up DVI redundancy system to be launched at next year’s ISE.

WizePanel from Wilke Technology was the star of this show. This is a standalone proposition that uses e-ink screens to display content, networked via a digital radio frequency. It may look like using a monochrome Kindle for signage, but whether it’s for wayfinding, internal communications or product information, the displays are clear and neat. This cable-free system can be attached using Velcro or magnetics, weighing as they do between 0.6 and 1.5kg, and measuring between 1.4 and 19″ (3.6 and 48.2cm).

Managing an installation requires the WizePanel dispatcher, its central station for the radio tags which connect to the IT environment. Supplied with its own software, clients can create different designs and change content dynamically. Jurgen Wilke, chief executive, explains the economics: “The cost will depend on the project, but about €500 (£432) per unit. The life expectancy is between five and 15 years; it carries long-life batteries which last for months. It is an all-round green and economical solution.”

But if you wanted to find more accomplished stands showing DOOH-relevant propositions, Olympia’s Marketing Week Live had the better draw. While pitched to marketeers, the Retail and Live areas contained strong digital signage offerings.

Live was located at the entrance of the event, dedicated to events and exhibitions companies; one of the first exhibits we came across was Alchemy, showing a couple of Christie MicroTiles displays fed with content from Amigo Digital. Channel Interactive was showing its for-hire touchscreen solutions, developed with U-Touch technology. There were videowalls and multi-touch tables which, according to business development director Mark Evans, are proving ‘very popular’ in the events community.

Beaver Group was in the Retail area, showing an impressive nine-by-six videowall composed once again of MicroTiles, enabled for interactivity using a touch-pad located in front. The wall’s 4K content has well deployed to give a truly immersive experience. Incidentally, the presence of Christie’s flagship display format across so many stands tells a tale of an industry that has cash to spend and is intent on providing impactful signage.

One newcomer was AVM Impact, whose product manager David Summer described Marketing Week Live as a ‘very good’ outing for the company – but he preferred to discuss digital media rather than digital signage, per se. “AVM Impact has so far been focused on the corporate market, but digital media encompases many other sectors,” he explains. “For this reason we are developing a new website which will better serve this market.”

Stratacache was showing its full range of products, although if you’ve been to other shows recently you’d already have witnessed this. Dutch developer JamiePro was also aiming to keep it simple; its background is in kiosks and was launching a new mini-kiosk with touchscreen and print facilities at Olympia, making it ideal for table-top applications. Also on offer were screens ranging from 17 to 80″ (43.2 to 203.2cm). Signbox, meanwhile, offers printed light-boxes that look very much like digital screens, complete with QR codes and smartphone interactivity, showing that, as we often debate at Output, digital signage’s next frontier is almost certainly mobile.

ESE is the successor to Screenmedia Expo, and the approach was the same: showing digital screens as a medium. Displays and players may be key components in the digital signage puzzle, but this is no longer enough. DOOH needs context and content – so it’s easier to see why Marketing Week Live was more of a success.

First published 16 July 2013 – Output

Android: digital signage for the masses

Caption: Android might offer a cheap route into digital signage - but is that its only advantage? (cc Compfight // Kham Tran)

Caption: Android might offer a cheap route into digital signage – but is that its only advantage? (cc Compfight // Kham Tran)

Both players and software have developed significantly during the two decades that digital signage has existed; technology has become smarter, smaller and cheaper and this has, in turn, driven adoption. A new surge is starting now thanks to Android, the Linux-based operating system owned by Google. Yet, while often identified as a cheaper alternative, Android’s real strength doesn’t lie in its price.

“Many DS software companies have launched support for Android and in some cases, bundled their software with Android HDMI sticks and boxes,” explains Jason Cremins, chief executive of Signagelive. “The vast majority of these devices were intended for the consumer market and, even with optimised software, were never built for unattended 24/7 use in digital signage.

“The reliability and robustness of the player being managed by Signagelive is hugely important to our reputation and the ability to scale our business globally with minimum support issues. For this reason, we have decided against re-branding a cheap Android device as Signagelive. Instead, we created a player API that enables reputable device manufacturers, such as Dension, to develop dedicated Android devices from the processor up that work with our Signagelive platform and replicate the capabilities of our Display Edition licence.”

Martijn Bakker, sales and marketing manager at Dise, corroborates that being obsessed with Android as a low-price option can backfire: “Sure, there are big savings to be made on player hardware – but you get what you pay for.”

Dise has been eyeing Android up for a few years. Its small form factor and fanless designs allow installation flexibility, but it was the operating system that really enticed the Swedish software developer. “The open source approach gives us as a software vendor a sense of confidence, since problems are easier to investigate, solve or circumvent than with proprietary operating systems,” adds Bakker.

Dynamax’s founder and director Howard Smith agrees, identifying the simpler operating system as a major reason for his company taking the Android route in September last year. “The biggest challenge has been finding a hardware solution that is robust enough for digital signage, and cost effective enough to make a real difference,” he comments.

But Android doesn’t present an obvious development path for every manufacturer. After initial research, BroadSign realised that it could have a hardware conundrum on its hands. “In 2011, BroadSign decided to invest time and money testing several dozen Android devices,” recalls Brian Dusho, the company’s chief executive. “We quickly saw that we had a decision to make: either we built a universal app for Google Play, or we integrated with a small list of certified hardware devices. It was necessary to modify the firmware, so we abandoned the App Store approach and settled on the device direction.” Coinciding with the company’s tenth anniversary, it launched, this April, its own Android-based player, applying functionality from other products to create a more affordable but nevertheless fully-featured option.

An Android-enabled device, however, is not enough. As screens increase in resolution and size, sharper images are a must; the hardware needs to have at least 16GB of hard drive storage, play 1080p HD full motion video and the latest Adobe Flash and HTML5 content. Plus, wifi is not always available, or reliable enough, so devices must include an ethernet port as a redundancy.

“Android, as an operating system, is not designed for digital signage,” Dusho continues. “It’s missing basic configuration parameters that allow you to set it, then forget it. These include hiding the task bar, dedicated boot into the signage player and administrator access in order to perform auto-upgrades. All of these require modifications to the firmware. Due to Android’s security model, you cannot modify the firmware from an App and that is why you shouldn’t install digital signage software from the Google Play Store [which provides apps for Android].”

Yet Israeli company NoviSign wants to prove this theory wrong. It promises to make any Android-based device digital signage-ready; end users can buy into its media player app for $15 (£9.30). Avi Vashkover, founder of NoviSign, says that Android opens up digital signage to everyone: “Until now, digital signage has failed to provide a simple, cost-effective solution for SMEs. We believe SMEs should enjoy almost the same capabilities as the big players, such as McDonalds, but at a fraction of the cost. Android is the answer.”

Android-based digital signage hardware connected to mobile technology can provide a more fluid communication with customers using GPS locators, voice recognition, face-detecting cameras, wifi hot spots, 4G connectivity and gyroscopic sensors, thereby changing the industry rapidly and for the better. We have only seen the beginning of it. It’s not just about cheaper options – it’s also about the wide range of choices and applications that Android has to offer.

First published 3 October 2013 – Output