The Digital Signage Insider

Convergence of Kiosk and Digital Signage Technologies

Published on: 2004-03-16

Since FireCast is a product designed for both the interactive kiosk and dynamic digital signage markets, we've spent a good deal of time over at WireSpring determining exactly what kind of functionality to add into new versions of our software that will benefit our entire target audience. Back in 2000 when the software was first being developed, there was a fairly large distinction between interactive kiosks and digital signage devices -- much more so than today. Signage hardware and software combos (they were rarely sold as separate pieces) were basically simple network attached playback devices. The most sophisticated of these would be able to receive content updates from some centralized source (either over the Internet or over a dedicated connection, such as an ISDN or frame relay line). Playback was limited to simply scripts or playlists, and often consisted of text files written in a proprietary scripting language that had to be edited by hand. And reporting functions consisted of outputting a text log file with all of the day's play information. And that was at the high end of the software spectrum.

Kiosk software, on the other hand, started with an entirely different goal in mind. When NetKey (then LexiTech) started with their kiosk software package of the same name back in 1996, it was designed basically as a package to help "lock down" a regular Windows-based computer. The company filed several patents here, here, and here, all outlining basic functionality that an interactive kiosk should have. Some of these mention Internet functionality, but only really as a method of accessing information (and I'm not going to get into the validity or enforceability of these patents at this time).

However, by and large, the notion of remote management for interactive kiosks didn't really come into the mainstream until 1999 or 2000, when a number of companies started to bolt remote management functionality onto their existing products.

By this time, the concept of digital signage was starting to become more understood, and some large retailers started to experiment with things like in-store television networks. While it was still uncertain how these networks would contribute to the bottom line, retailers were quickly becoming enamored with the idea of rich media marketing to consumers at the point-of-sale.

Fast forward to 2004: Plasma displays and large-format LCD screens are becoming affordable. Computing power is cheap, and a $500 machine is more than powerful enough to serve dynamic content. Internet connectivity is nearly ubiquitous and high-speed access can often be had for less than $100.00 per month. And people seem to recognize the value of in-store technology. These conditions are good for both the interactive kiosk and (non-interactive) dynamic digital signage markets, and both have flourished in the past 18-24 months.

Consequently, more technologies companies are trying to close the gap between kiosk and signage products, to varying degrees of success. On the hardware end of things, interactive kiosks that also leverage large plasma displays are eye-catching but expensive. Touchscreen overlays for plasmas are another idea that makes for a powerful presentation but isn't economically viable for most deployments. Fortunately, these hardware prices will likely come down as the technology gets commoditized and new players create competition in the channel.

On the software side of things, kiosk software providers, having added remote management to their repertoire (aside from products like FireCast, which had remote management built in from the start) are now adding signage-specific functions like advanced scheduling capabilities and better video support into the lineup, while signage software companies are adding interactivity features into their products to differentiate themselves.

As the line between kiosks and digital signs continues to blur, this can only mean good things for businesses looking to get in to the business, since competition creates better products and lower prices across the board. And as the technology becomes more commonplace (and especially in cases when it's used for revenue-generating purposes), hopefully this will lead to lower prices and better deals for consumers.

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