Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gold in Those Hills, I mean, Kiosks

My favorite aspect of this business is the amazing range of uses that are available for kiosks. A few months back I wrote about the tremendous growth in money transfer kiosks for immigrants who want to quickly send money back to relatives in their country of origin. And ATMS are, of course, the Big Daddy of kiosks, now ubiquitous and indispensable to contemporary life worldwide. And, of course, let's not forget betting kiosks, some of which (for example the iSports stand shown below) have memorably been called "ATMs on steroids."
Now, with the financial world still on shaky ground, some people perceive a market for kiosks for gold exchange. The New York Times recently highlighted a new line of vending kiosks marketed by TG-Gold-Super-Markt which will allow people to purchase one to ten gram pieces of gold. The first of these new "gold dispensing machines" appeared in Frankfurt this month. The company plans to install more in airports and railroad stations across Germany (its home base), eventually branching out to Switzerland and Austria, according to a Financial Times report. The current model, with the name "Gold to Go" is nothing more than a big gold box, but it does have video surveillance and up-to-date pricing. These may never become as commonplace as your standard ATM (although wouldn't it be interesting if your standard ATM could do a bit more?), but perhaps the design will improve as people become used to purchasing security in little nuggets rather than in crisp bills. The Gold Rush has never been more contemporary -- or dull looking -- as it is today.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Lessons to Learn: Kiosk Touch Screens vs the Digital In-Home Market

Sales of new technology are up and down in this Brave New Economy. That's significant on the retail consumer goods end, but it's also important on the side of corporate investment in forward-thinking technology to advance sales and customer service. The adoption of new gadgets is an important cross-over concern: if people adapt and adopt on one side (for example, by buying new products for their personal use), they are more likely to adopt and adapt on the other side (by being willing to use new interfaces in retail settings). And, of course, vice versa.

Here's one example to think about in relation to the interactive kiosk industry: touch screens.

Over the last decade, consumers have become more and more comfortable with touch screen technology in the retail marketplace, particularly as ordering kiosks become ubiquitous in the food and hospitality industry and tourism depends on informational kiosks. Consumer spending on electronics has been clearly focused on devices with innovative benefits. Apple's iPhone has certainly changed the nature of everyday touch screen use (I watched my kids play the cat toss app and learned a whole new approach to gaming) and opened up a host of possibilities for developers. At the same time, it's important to note that people have been slower to adopt the touch screen on other home electronics.

Why? Here's one thought: Different languages require different keyboards -- we all know that -- but do touch screens and kiosks require different interfaces? Many in the business tout touch screens because they bypass literacy issues -- that is, people who are simply unable to read information on billboards and menus are liberated by the visual elements of touch screens (pictures of the menu offerings rather than lots of description;). Someone traveling to Mexico who cannot speak the language can rely on icons and images when interacting with a currency exchange kiosk; A person with limited literacy can still order off the menu at a fast food restaurant because the pictures illustrate the meal choices.

But it turns out that touch screens are, indeed, for the most part, tied to written knowledge and culture-specific hand gestures. HP, which has been in the forefront of bringing touch screen technology into the PC/ home computer market, has been studying the various local, regional, and national differences in the way people use their hands. According to an interview in PC Magazine, Phil McKinney, the vice president and chief technical officer of Hewlett Packard,

"What our researchers are working on, is literally creating a dictionary of touch and gestures from around the world," McKinney said. "When someone happens to be in-country, I'm throwing a video camera at them, saying run the test, videotape her, bring the videotape back. Do things like, say, put a monitor up, put a picture up [on it], say to them, if you wanted to make that picture bigger, how would you do that?" Apple's iPhone and iPod touch have popularized the two-finger "pinch" command, McKinney noted. "But in some parts of the world they don't know what the pinch command is, and the user will try to grab the image from the side...They'll do fingers."

Unfortunately, the touch dictionary will remain part of HP's research and development rather than a nice anthropologically-based tool for the larger population. This research strikes me as a bit disingenuous -- and, frankly, ignorant of the reams of knowledge already gathered by those in the retail kiosk touch screen world. But even in the in-home market, consider how the Wii has had magnificent worldwide success and there's no universality to the gestures required. And back to our crossover example: Kiosk touch screen technology gets developed and deployed successfully in myriad settings without too much complaining about gestures and cultural illiteracy. In fact, because kiosk touch screens are used more broadly by a wider population -- and in a variety of contexts (from SeaWorld to CVS, from India to Kansas) -- they have to be more finely tuned to user needs. And innovative: think of the recent thin foil screens that can be attached to any glassy surface (Barking Snail's version shown here).

The lesson that home-use touch screen technology can learn from touch screen development in the kiosk industry: making it innovative means creating software that "makes touch useful rather than a mere curiosity." As the New York Times points out, no one benefits if the applications are not interesting.

images: Laxton Kiosks; Barking Snail, Perceptive Pixels.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Intelligent Design and Innovation in the Self-Service World

One of the most exciting things about kiosks, aside from their versatility, is the design potential. Kiosks can be almost anything, from a simple screen on a desk to a chambered nautilus. Even the simple formats (the "library catalogue" version) beg for user-friendly construction. Beauty isn't a bad feature either. Check out this IDSA award-winning example from University of Illinois Urbana Champlain student Toshihiro Fujimura, whose design is one of the few I've seen that actually has a functionality to its arched body (the kiosk is "bendable" such that it's easily reachable by someone shorter than average or in a wheelchair). Someone should tell Toshihiro to name it "praying mantis" because that's ultimately what it resembles.

We're not quite at the mobile monster stage, as predicted by Futuresonic, but the kiosk in their promo intrigues and suggests possibilities. A 45-second video featuring a rolling kiosk has become the launchpad for 2010's FutureEverything.

Even ordinary applications can be extraordinarily deployed. Ecast recently took home the award for its high-definition digital signage display that delivers digital music, games, video, user-generated content, targeted advertising and social applications and offers myriad opportunities for promotion at the point of purchase. A "revamped jukebox" for bars, offers many features, including s a 40-inch, full HD flat-panel touchscreen. The display can support any manner of content and is divided into three sections to offer various types of views. Interestingly, the device's shape looks similar to a giant Apple iPhone, attracting users to explore its content even more.

Speaking of Apple, of course, the thing that has all design folks atwitter is the revelation that Apple has had a kiosk patent out since 2007 and appears ready to launch iTunes kiosk availability in malls, airports, and other sites. If these new kiosks are anything like Apple's other products, expect sleek design, straightforward functionality, and easy of use.

But until we get that kiosk locally, perhaps it's important for kiosk design to participate in the re-conceptualization of retail spaces like malls. New York Times design blogger Allison Arieff recently returned from the 2009 International Council on Shopping Centers Convention in Las Vegas and promptly blogged a rich presentation of the various successful innovations on the whole mall idea. Because of their versatility, kiosks should have a prominent place in new community designs and retail centers (be they traditional malls or new urban amphitheaters of localized consumption). Arieff's blog should be a great starting place for those re-conceptualizing future use value for kiosks beyond the hospital and fast food line.

Finally, in Auberdeen Scotland, an experiment with free wifi has worked well, including the public web kiosks. The spots look like an outcropping of urban beach umbrellas, have only been damaged a few times since they were first put up, and provides invaluable free wifi to all. I love these because they evoke beach umbrellas ready to take off into space.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Will the humble DVD kiosk take down mighty Netflix?

Most Netflix users I know can't say enough good things about the service. Cheaper and easier than going to the video store, and with a much -- MUCH -- wider and deeper selection of titles to choose from, it comes highly regarded by video novices and serious movie buffs alike.  So it's funny to think that in spite of this a little DVD rental kiosk that can only stock a hundred or so titles might be the thing to take the company down a peg.

Well, maybe a couple tens of thousands of the devices...

But this isn't my prognostication. It comes from none other than the CEO of the firm himself, Reed Hastings, as this NewTeeVee article mentions: "Hastings reinforced the company’s commitment to DVDs and Blu-ray and said he believes there is still a lot of growth in its rental by mail business. Rental kiosks and their $1 new release movies are expected to be Netflix’s No. 1 competition by the end of the year."

I have to imagine that the convenience of the two approaches is relatively similar.  Is it easier to make a queue of videos and get them in your mailbox, or pause in front of a kiosk on your way out the door of your local supermarket?  It's basically a wash.  However, while the kiosks will never be able to match the depth of selection that Netflix offers, it can provide some instant gratification that Netflix -- even with their new on-demand streaming service -- can't yet match (for new releases, at least).

I'm sure that both Netflix and the numerous DVD rental kiosk owners out there know that it's only a matter of time before the next big switch happens, and people turn to their computers, or Internet-connected TVs, to do the majority of their movie renting and downloading.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beyond Earth Day: Saving the Planet with Technology AND Nature

Earth Day has come and gone, but for the first time since the event originated 39 years ago, the general public, corporations, and governments are returning to the green message in a serious way, translating environmental concerns into everyday practices and using the economic crisis as a way to make conservation practical and sexy again.

Kiosks are one great place to see this happening:

Recycling "reverse vending" machines have been around since the mid 1980s, but usage is going way up and corporations are starting to consider the possibilities for advertising and point-of-sale promotions. Tomra, one of the larger manufacturers of recycling vending machines, has begun including videos (on built-in screens), coupons, and poster advertising on its recyclable sorting machines that are usually near supermarkets, sports stadiums, and college campuses. These kiosks are becoming more and more ubiquitous (indeed, perhaps eventually replacing the corner mailbox as the iconic neighborhood item?) and advertisers are realizing that consumers are willing to spend more time in stores and at the vending machines if they have an interactive activity while they're sorting the empty soda and beer cans.
Tomra’s RVMs provide an excellent opportunity for advertisers to associate themselves with a positive activity such as recycling, while at the same time increasing exposure for their products or services,” said Warren Stoll, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Tomra of North America. “This new program will increase store traffic and customer loyalty, contributing to a much-needed economic boost to stores throughout the country.”
Tomra claims that it collects more than 30 billion used beverage containers through its recycling machines, which is equivalent to approximately 3% of the world’s consumption. It also accounts for almost half the global revenue from recycling. Pretty impressive for something that could just be mistaken as a trash bin.

While amping up the kiosks with advertising and video is a great idea, let's hope that Tomra and its ilk continue to think broadly about applications. Rather than the ubiquitous (and often ugly) plastic recycling buckets in many locations, kiosks can be integrated into workplaces, parks, and municipal buildings, where self-service makes recycling easier. Aesthetically, they can enhance a space, offering bins with art all around the outside, such as this one designed by artist Russell Lord.

Environmental dimensions of kiosk development are not always visible: Steve Arel suggests that there are more ways that kiosks can develop a "green" technological face, such as using less metal and foam, recycling retired kiosks, using standby mode technology to reduce power use in idle times, and developing interactive modes that reduce paper use (emailing receipts, for example).

This would also work for kiosks that are associated with recycling smaller items -- such as batteries, cell phones, CDs/DVDs and printer cartridges. These kiosks are often in supermarkets, drug stores, and most often, electronics stores. While these are prime locations for in-store promotions, coupon offers, and product advertisements, it's often more effective to give each kiosk one overall message and design, drawing consumer attention to it as its own object. Marketing often tends to look at new sites as space to be filled, plastering every free inch rather than going for a single overarching pitch in one spot. If recycling kiosks are overburdened with too many disparate -- and unrelated -- product images, they will become part of the backdrop of endless advertisements.

Not all green initiatives need to be plastered right onto the kiosk itself: While Nokia Cell phone recycling kiosks in Indonesia have been very successful at generating green practices through the kiosks, they find that consumers still need to be educated about why this is a good idea. According to a Nokia spokesperson, "One of the main reasons why so few people recycle their mobile phones is because they simply don't know that it is possible to do so... up to 80 percent of any Nokia device is recyclable. Materials such as cobalt, nickel, copper, iron, aluminum, plastics, and even gold can be recovered. It can be reused to help make new products such as steel and other metal products, plastic cones, and in the case of precious metals like gold, into jewelry."

Promoting itself as a "green" company is one way to get consumers to think about the environmental aspects of their cell phones. Although it's not mentioned on the kiosk, one integral part of Nokia's recycling efforts is a program to donate a tree for every phone recycled. Sponsored by NEWtrees Initiative (a collaboration between Nokia, Equinox Publishing, and WWF Indonesia), Nokia has already pledged to plant 100,000 trees in Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The aim is to help reduce the annual haze that affects the region, and contribute to protecting and preserving the park.

As with all green initiatives, there's a healthy mixture of corporate responsibility and self promotion in creating technology and advertising that helps preserve the environment. Given the central role of recycling and education in so many kiosk applications, it's good for companies to keep their eyes on eco-conscious approaches in all aspects of the industry.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Virtual Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Best Looking Kiosk in the Store?

When my daughters were little, they were already savvy computer users and cultural critics who were generally unimpressed with the Barbie website – except for one feature: you could design your own Barbie, complete with hair color, style, and clothing. They didn’t actually want one, but the ability to “try on” hair and makeup and styles online was compelling. In fact, when they were old enough to “graduate” to Sims, it always seemed like this was what they were doing – creating characters and adjusting their styles -- rather than setting the Sims up in a storyline.

In February, IBM introduced their latest approach to kiosks, which is, quite literally taking that old Barbie format off the home computer and re-vamping it to the in-store virtual shopping experience. Their new “Virtual Mirror” kiosk works from a digitally scanned photo and allows customers to select a variety of products – from hair coloring to makeup – and see how they would look on a virtual version of yourself.

H&M already has a version of this – a not-so-far-from-Sims-like Virtual Dressing room where you can check out how an outfit would look on a computerized image – with your face. The IBM version involves directed selling, though, suggesting more or similar products after the customer scans in barcodes of makeup and hair coloring that interests them. After a customer makes some choices, the image and results can be printed or emailed.

Virtual makeovers are nothing new, but the act of combining them with point-of-sale tailored encouragements to buy selected products is an intriguing – and potentially powerful – way of using the kiosk for greater customer segmentation. The EZface Virtual Mirror Application is the first generation of these products that has already debuted worldwide.

I think it’s worth considering this as an application that might be more effectively tailored as time goes on. It’s ironic that a kiosk designed to help women with makeovers is actually pretty unattractive – sure enough, this looks like an old IBM computer that went on a flat screen diet but is still wearing its yellow power tie from the 1980s. The interface is easy to use, but it doesn’t attract attention any more than those self-scanners at the ends of the aisle in Target.

Compare this to the prototype that Intel and Frog Design unveiled at a recent trade show – It was profiled in the New York Times, most likely since Frog is known for its innovative thinking about technology and machines beyond the box. Frog re-thinks the whole shape and functionality of the cash register, moving it closer to the online experience people have shopping at home. This version has two vertical screens that function as kiosk – the design is slick and engaging, a futuristic pinball machine shape. Smarter than your average cash register, it can pull up a customer’s purchase history with a flash of a store loyalty card. With that knowledge in hand, the kiosk can make point-of-sale suggestions and related products. According to Wired, “The goal is to combine the marketable social possibilities of shopping in the real world with the Web’s ability to up-sell.” To sweeten the deal, Intel has made it clear that the new smart registers are environmentally sound, using less wattage than its regular counterpart by incorporating energy-saving LCD screens and processors as well as a “sleep” mode when the salesperson is not around.

The point is that new kiosk technology has to do something better than what it replaces – and while the advantages of kiosks for point-of-sale marketing are pretty apparent, it’s important to keep in mind that design is not a by-product, but rather part of what makes some new technologies more engaging.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Getting Segmented Markets Right: Money Transfer Kiosks and Latino Customers

As the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, Latinos are consumers to watch, as even Wal-Mart actively courts its Spanish-speaking customers. Market research firms are cuing up to explain this diverse population. But the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are catch-all categories, covering a wide range of peoples from more than fifteen countries with different generational, geographic, and cultural stories about how they shape the landscape of consumption in the United States. Many market firms use the rather crude metric of “acculturated “ to talk about the extent to which Latinos are absorbed into the general American culture rather than retaining practices from their countries of origin. Social scientists have been debating the nature of assimilation since the turn of the century, so it’s no surprise that market research still isn’t quite certain how to explain and explore the cultural dynamics of immigrant ethnic and racial groups.

However, from both the academic and marketing research, we can conclude that newer immigrant groups have unique issues with assimilation. Being bilingual and having familial ties to another country create interesting dual ties in a time when travel and communication between places is instantaneous and more accessible (at least for those with legal status).

The census demonstrates that at least 40% of US Latinos were born in another country. But hold your presumptions about what that means: the more affluent older Latinos embrace assimilation in language use, eschewing Hispanic media, yet retain traditions related to their cultural heritage. On the other hand, Spanish language and media are important to moderately acculturated young families who speak Spanish at home. Their kids, career, and conservative values are all important.

The global connection has also meant that companies outside of the US are often more adept at speaking to Latino consumers and that those consumers know how to find what they want via the internet. The top ten indexing sites for Hispanics are all outside the US. According to an interview with Mediapost:
Maria Lopez-Knowles, senior vice president at MRM/McCann Worldgroup, says "I would think that Hispanics do leave our borders to visit foreign sites. It's an opportunity for them to stay in touch with the activities of their homeland, catch up on national and local events and, in short, stay connected...The flattening of the world has made what was inaccessible, accessible. And it really speaks to the fact that it's not about 'either/or' anymore; it's about AND. You can be bilingual and bicultural, and straddle two worlds -- you don't have to pick one or the other."
The duality of that experience translates into use of technology. One area of growth in these complicated economic times are self-service money transfer kiosks. Positioned in cities with large Latino populations, the kiosks (pictured above) allow immigrants to send money to relatives at home via automated teller-type machines to bank branches and pickup centers in Latin America. Instead of filling out forms to transfer cash, consumers deposit their money into a machine. Fees start at $9.95 to send up to $1,000. That's comparable to rates at most transfer companies (which have not gone up significantly in the last few years despite news in 2007 that focused on complaints about fees at Western Union).

According to the Houston Chronicle, last year, immigrants, using banks and wire transfer services, sent $67.5 billion to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. A year earlier, remittances amounted to $66.5 billion, according to Inter-American Development Bank estimates.

Kiosk success will hinge upon the ability of companies to attract and maintain a segment of the Latino population who, so far for this service, tend to be middle to lower income, speak primarily Spanish, and are sometimes wary of technology. Local wire transfer services (like the one pictured above) tend to be neighborhood stores and offer a version of trust that's based on familiarity and cultural connection. Kiosks will have to demonstrate security and trust without that human connection.

One answer is good customer service. The parent company of the kiosks in question, Nexx, recently sweetened the deal: customers who utilize money transfer services through the self-service kiosks receive a five minute long-distance call for free, so they can call the recipient and notify them that the funds are on their way. Calif.-based Nexxo now has more than 180 kiosk sites across Texas (San Antonio, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso, and Houston). In total, Nexxo currently boasts 650 kiosks handling 50,000 transactions a month in the heavily Latino states of California, Texas, and Arizona.

It’s hard to speculate on the future growth of wire transfers, given their dependence on a strong American dollar, a less hostile climate for immigrant workers, and the availability of work. Still, by emphasizing the security and trustworthiness of its technology, it seems likely that the kiosk will prevail as the best approach (even as wire transfer services continue to serve some segment of the population), just as ATMs dominate but bank tellers remain necessary. The kiosk allows greater consumer access, convenience, and autonomy, which, combined with a well aimed marketing campaign in multiple languages, may make the money transfer kiosk a vital new approach.

kiosk image: Nexxo.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

LEGO Augmented Reality Kiosk

Saw this on DSInsights and was very impressed. Hold a box of LEGOs up to the kiosk, and the screen will show you what's inside.

It's kind of like a simulated X-ray machine just for the product. Of course, it also shows the models that can be built from the particular LEGO set, and probably has a few other functions as well.

I know I'd certainly have a hard time pulling myself away without holding every single box up to the machine :)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Stop & Shop scans its way into future

According to The Hour, Stop and Shop's Main Avenue location in Norwalk, CT is one of the first to demonstrate new self-scanning technology that allows shoppers to (at their option) use a hand-held scanner while they shop. When they're finished shopping, customers simply go to a kiosk to complete their transaction. The system is touted as a time-saver for shoppers (who don't need to wait on line to pay), and could have some interesting implications for customer satisfaction (since checkout aisles typically score the lowest on these surveys, unsurprisingly).

In addition to getting customers to use the devices and handling the in-store technical support issues that might arise, combatting shoplifting is another tough area that Stop & Shop has to address during this test.  As the article notes,  "In addition to other security measures, the system will select random orders for review. 'That's one of the most common questions we get: How do you know (customers are being honest),' [Steve Young, senior project manager for self-service technology at Stop and Shop] said. 'There's security built into the system and we do random checks. You always have a balance of convenience of security. It's something we consider when we develop these technologies.'"

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Urban Bike Kiosks: A Perfect Blend of Technology and Sustainability

At a time when it's tough to get anyone to spend on new projects, perhaps the new administration's focus on economic growth through sustainable energy and infrastructure support will encourage more cities to invest in the growing bike kiosk programs that are popping up across the globe. Just recently, AsiaOne Travel reported that Singapore is poised to adopt bicycle rental kiosks similar to the ones used in Paris. The kiosks are spread across the city, usually near bus and train stations and downtown hubs.

In Paris, a system called Velib, which was begun over a year ago, has been so wildly successful that the city needs to increase its supply of bikes. Demand is great: so far there are about 20,600 bicycles spread over 1,450 self-service rental kiosks. 

A cyclist may pick up a bike from one kiosk and drop it off at another for subscription fees ranging from 1 euro (US$1.35) for a day to 29 euros for a year. Use of the bike is free for 30 minutes at a time, after which charges are imposed.

Here in the United States, Washington DC became the first American city to use the bike dispenser kiosks (the fancier version is pictured above). While other American cities are seen as more “bike friendly,” with wide lanes on major thoroughfares, better safety regulations, and well, just generally more commuters who use bikes, DC hopes this new program will help it catch up. Not that it’s a competition, but cities with “greener” reputations (like Portland, OR) are looking to Washington to see how the kiosk-run program works. The SmartBike kiosks, which were created by outdoor advertiser Clear Channel Communications Inc. and deployed by the Washington, D.C., District Department of Transportation, allows people to rent a bike with the swipe of a membership or credit card. Clear Channel provides Washington with the kiosks in exchange for the right to advertise in certain public areas, such as on bus shelters. According to ClearChannel’s spokesperson, the business model pays for all of the capital and the ongoing operating expense for the bike sharing program, which offers more long term funding than federal grants.

Although Clear Channel was one of the companies proposing kiosks for Portland, right now the ambitious plan for a 500-fleet set of bikes and kiosks is on hold while the city’s officials debate feasibility issues.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Transportation Department has been slowly striping more bike lanes through the city's streets. Currently there are about 25 miles designated for bikes; an additional 11 miles are in the works this year (which is only a small swath of roadway compared to many other cities). Washington’s program also has some advantages in terms of theft prevention – the Velib program in Paris has lost over 3,000 bikes so far (they have even turned up in Australia, according to some reports). People in Singapore are highly skeptical that the system will work there, given the already huge rate of bike theft and the general lack of police enforcement. In comparison, the DC bikes have a radio frequency device that allows them to be tracked. The advantage of kiosk use is also clear here: people who don’t return bikes can be charged via their credit cards.

Now seems to be the right time to promote programs like this, a perfect blend of high technology, sustainable environmental programs, and infrastructural support. And, well, cool bikes in futuristic-looking kiosks. How much more forward thinking can we get?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Be all that you can be (virtually)

The American Defense Industry has put a multi-platform digital environment in a retail setting. Instead of trying to up-sell customers to get a few more dollars out of their wallets, though, these terminals are designed to sell a career choice. The Army has been making good use of digital technology for many years, funding research and development for a wide variety of products. Now, the ordinary consumer gets a chance to experiment with military technology in a retail setting, with last week’s grand opening of the Army Experience Center at Philadelphia’s Franklin Mills Mall.

This environment proves interesting not only for its amazing array of technology, but for the soft sell it represents, since military personnel who staff the center are not technically recruiting, but rather telling all visitors "the Army story." Most of the promotional news reporting about the Center has been quick to point out that, even with current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is meeting its current goals for recruits. At the same time, the Center is located in a high traffic mall close to a large urban population, an ideal customer base for both public education and potential enlistees.

The actual space is an interesting combination of virtual video gone wild and lifestyle promotion. The lounge serves food and drinks (free to anyone who registers) and has a digital display of army life. Touch screen videos allow potential recruits to find military bases across the globe, research potential careers with the Army, and learn about advanced training in multimedia, robotics, and piloting. The Tactical Ops Center looks like a movie set, with nine large screen displays for global tracking, computer-simulated missile operation, and other virtual training opportunities. If all that seems too tame for you, there’s a whole room of Black Hawk, Apache helicopter, and Humvee simulators. To prove that today’s youth are not wasting their time on video games, there’s a sci-fi inspired theater arena for Xbox and PC games like Warcraft, Madden’s NFL, and Ghost Recon. Although gaming skills start early in our culture, this room is limited to those 13 and older.

If the whole Army experience-in-a-mall isn't enough one its own, you can wind your way to Sears and pick up your very own official Army clothing (proceeds go to support programs for the troops) so that your simulated helicopter runs will feel even more authentic.

The entire site is more than three times the size of a basketball court, filled with digital and interactive kiosks. The sleek touch screen pillars look a bit too much like vintage Science Museum fare, the kind where you learn about protozoa and the last days of dinosaurs (Why make people stand at a kiosk when they don’t have to?), but the overall experience is sleek and inviting. The lounge has the feel of an airport club, with Army Life videos playing rather than CNN.

Overall, it’s an interesting approach to retail-as-education through state-of-the-art digital technology. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, it’s worth a stop just to see what’s possible with a large budget and no monthly sales quota. Be all that you can be, indeed!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pictures make Olympic kiosks worth a thousand words

Check out Kodak's Olympic Kiosks and... Richard Mackson's racing photos.

We hear a lot about how blogs have democratized writing, making information and communication more accessible to both the writer and readers, but it’s also true that blogs and other internet features have had a substantial influence on photographic images, too. People share their output on sites like Flickr, add new photos to their blogs, and link to their favorite photos from another site. Images that once were shared with a few friends are now all over the world. Photojournalists are no longer the only ones recording events for posterity.

The Olympics are a treasure trove of photographic moments: the images are more powerful than any commentary or article. Kodak has taken great advantage of the photo-happy opportunity by sponsoring bloggers who post new images every day. In Bejing at the Olympic site the Kodak building is loaded with kiosks where visitors can learn more about how to develop or download the images they’ve just taken. Young sales staff in white outfits assist customers with glee.

The bloggers are posting amazing images of the games and of their sightseeing in China, along with occasional tidbits about how to get the best shot. Richard Mackson’s comments on his photos make you think anyone can be a Sports Illustrated quality photographer with just a little closer attention to shutter speed and composition. Looking through his album you won’t believe one person could have attended that many different events in such a short period of time. After viewing his bicycle racing photos, I went back to NBC and found earlier coverage of that event so I could catch up with the stories Mackson had covered in still photographs. My favorite part is their promotion of an Olympic Picture of the Day, which ends up on a digital sign in Times Square as well as being showcased by mainstream media.

So what does Kodak stand to gain from all this? The best form of marketing there is, according to Media Post:
There are no plans to use the photos in marketing or advertising campaigns, but pictures and blog posts drive awareness to other Kodak online activities, such as an exclusive Kodak Olympic pin promotion that consumers can find in the online store… Since the start of the Games, Kodak's Web site--including the blog-- has experienced a spike in traffic, but Hoehn says becoming eyes and ears of Olympic fans really means "connecting with our customers in a unique way and demonstrating our innovative products and services."
The integration of web-based activities, local kiosks, and promotion on digital signs is the best way to get Kodak's name back into households. With all the expectations placed on the Olympics, in terms of commercialism, sports, and politics (even though, of course, the Olympics are supposed to be free of two of those things), it’s great to see a corporation like Kodak developing good will while improving its brand image.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Best Buy kiosks coming to airports

Talk about brand extension.... This interesting article on Yahoo! Tech notes that bricks-and-mortar consumer electronics retailer Best Buy will be rolling out several self-service kiosks (vending machines would be a better description, actually) to major airports. So far, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and San Francisco all have the devices, and supposedly more are on the way.

The giant gadgets dispense much smaller gadgets (think PSPs, digital cameras, MP3 players and assorted cables), which consumers can select using a touchscreen system that provides product information and pricing. The swipe of a credit card can reunite business traveler with long-lost power cords, for example, or perhaps give little Sally an iPod to play with on the long flight home.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Self-service kiosk software development

That was posted as a comment in response to the New York Times's David Pogue's rant about Delta's self check-in kiosks:

You come up, you swipe your credit card. That alone ought to tell the kiosk who you are, and it should therefore know what flight you’re checking in for.

But no, it plays dumb. It asks you to key in your destination. So you type in “SAN” for San Francisco. And it asks you: San Francisco, San Diego, or San Juan? Oh, I don’t know–how about THE ONE YOU HAVE A RESERVATION ON!?

(Yes, yes, I know–you might have more than one reservation on Delta. But come on. Let’s say you have flights today at 3 pm, tomorrow at 5 pm, and next Friday at 8 pm. As you swipe your credit card, today, at 1:30 pm, does it really think you’re checking in for anything but the first one?)

But O.K. You tap San Francisco. And now–I kid you not–it wants to know what time of day the flight departs!

Are you kidding me? It doesn’t know the airline’s own flight time? Come on–it already knows what flight I’m on, so what’s the point of this exercise? For God’s sake, just check me in!

Whenever I encounter badly designed software like this, I stand there, slack-jawed, mind boggling, and wonder what on earth the designers were *thinking.* Not, obviously, about elegance, intelligence and simplicity. (My emphasis added)

I'm sure we've all found ourselves in this situation. Clients come in, asking to benefit from our years of experience in the industry. Using that accumulated knowledge, we proceed to work on a design that incorporates the necessary functionality, provides a suitable level of accessibility, and meets the client's business objectives. But because it isn't precisely what the client had in mind, it's not what they ultimately want or feel satisfied with. Their "gut instinct", or whatever you might prefer to call it, gets the better of their reasoning minds. Whether it's a startup in a garage or a Fortune 500 company makes no difference, this phenomenon exists everywhere. In the end, it comes down to sticking to your guns and perhaps losing the account (or your job), or else giving in and winning the contract. You can guess which the Delta kiosk's designers did.

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