Choosing the right computing technology for retail kiosks
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By Rob Anders, chief executive, andersDX
31 August 2012
Rob Anders notes that retailers of various sizes are adopting kiosks
Recent years have seen a significant growth in the number of interactive kiosks deployed in the retail environment as companies seek ways to grow sales by enhancing the user experience for customers. This trend is set to accelerate as large and small retailers look to take advantage of new and emerging technologies ranging from multi-touch user interfaces through to high-speed networking and cloud computing to solutions for gathering user information.
For any retailer looking to specify or select a kiosk there are a number of important considerations. These will include the level of functionality required – for example, is the kiosk designed to provide information only or to take the customer through browsing all the way to transaction? It is also important to consider the quality of the user experience – for instance ease of use and 'enjoyment' level. Then there are other critical elements such as kiosk reliability and availability (the uptime that can be expected and the number of call-outs for maintenance, calibration or repair) or the ability of the kiosk to operate in sometimes harsh environments. And for retailers looking to protect their investment the level of future-proofing or scalability will also need to be assessed.
How well a given solution matches the factors outlined above will be largely influenced by underlying computing technology, which is not only the 'engine' that drives the kiosk but also the system element most susceptible to failure. And while low-cost desktop PCs – or, at any rate, slightly modified versions of desktop PCs – may have been the norm until relatively recently, more kiosk manufacturers are waking up to the fact that these systems really aren't cut out for the demands of the modern retail environment. Which is why they are now looking to build their kiosks around a new generation of ultra-miniature, industrial grade computers that are robust, reliable and designed for 24/7 unattended use.
Clearly the first advantage of an ultra-miniature PC is size, with some models we've seen as small as 13 x 9 x 1.5cm, meaning they are easy to hide within a kiosk enclosure or to mount directly on the back of a monitor – a truly amazing engineering achievement considering what goes into the box and all of the electrical noise and heat considerations that need to be dealt with. What's more, many clever product designs are eliminating fans by using the body as a heat sink, and by deploying solid state storage rather than traditional HDD technology, the leading ultra-miniature PCs have no moving parts at all – which not only minimises power consumption but also dramatically increases reliability and robustness, directly influencing system uptime, supporting 24/7/365 operation without the need for on-site technical or maintenance personnel. And with many of these products supporting 'auto-resume' functionality, the kiosk won't even require manual intervention to reboot systems following a power outage.
Rob Anders is the chief executive of andersDX, a user interface technology specialist dedicated to optimising the display Xperience (DX) of retail, industrial, medical and other 'non-consumer' applications.
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