The Digital Signage Insider

IBM Anyplace Kiosk and other all-in-one hardware solutions come into their prime

Published on: 0000-00-00

While working on an interactive kiosk project about five years ago, we had the opportunity to use a fairly obscure piece of IBM hardware called the Netvista X40.  Originally envisioned as an all-in-one desktop replacement for businesses short on desk space, the X40 mounted all of the typical components found in a desktop (CPU, motherboard, CD-ROM and floppy drive) in a small enclosure behind a 15" LCD screen.  Our units were even customized with touch screens.  The entire thing was perhaps six inches deep, with a tilting base that also housed the unit's power supply.  At about $2,500, I guess these units were a commercial failure for IBM, since they were only marketed for a short period of time.  But while they were available, we recommended that customers buy all that they could.  Not for use as desktop replacements, though.  Instead, we found that these little devices made great self-contained interactive kiosks for retail environments.

Thus began my strange fascination with all-in-one, integrated kiosk platforms.  Over the past few years, other hardware makers have come forward with compact solutions designed for self-service applications.  But in my opinion (which is all you get here, after all), none matched the elegance and simplicity of the original X40.  Even IBM's own successor, the X41, came up short.  While the newer model had a rugged bezel and more power under the hood, a few physical flaws and the occasional unexplained stability problem kept me from recommending it to customers.  With the supply of X40s practically nonexistent, any only a few half-hearted efforts on tap from other vendors building a turnkey platform, we had to turn back to the more traditional method of bolting a computer (or at least its innards) into the kiosk cabinet.

Now, I have nothing against this practice.  It's what most of our customers have relied on for years, and there are many experienced kiosk vendors out there today who build high-quality kiosk systems using commodity computers and components.  But from a technical support and product lifecycle perspective, this creates a few problems that could be avoided with an all-in-one solution.  Among the concerns:
        
  • Lack of hardware consistency - A Dell is a Dell is a Dell, right?  Wrong.  In fact, buy more than a few (supposedly identical) systems from Dell at once, and take them apart.  More than likely you'll find that the motherboards, CPUs, RAM chips and hard disks are all slightly different from one another.  While this isn't really a problem most of the time, I know there have been cases where a particular combination of parts was much more failure prone than others, or more difficult to troubleshoot for some reason.  Lower-volume, all-in-one solutions necessarily contain more custom parts than mass-produced PCs, but every copy of a particular all-in-one device will be practically identical.  Plus, vendors typically commit to offering the same model for 3 years or more, with only minor changes made along the way (e.g. faster CPUs).
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  • Not designed with self-service in mind - The thing that I like best about the all-in-one units (X40 aside, ironically) is that their manufacturers know that they'll be placed in hostile environments where they'll be kicked, punched, attacked with food and drink, and otherwise accosted.  Of course, custom manufactured kiosks are designed to great tolerances as well, but too often they rely on a regular desktop PC inside, which most definitely was not built to these standards.
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  • Too much reliance on the integrator - Between the two points above, a kiosk integrator has to take many precautions and tie up a lot of loose ends to harden a system to the point where it can be deployed to a public environment.  Again, there are companies who do this every day, and have deployed thousands of units this way.  But they have to manually check every single device, ensuring that cables between monitor, touch screen and any other peripherals are correct and secure, and that the computer is mounted in a way that it can be shipped securely without getting damaged.  This becomes especially challenging when the underlying components (e.g. LCD monitors and touchscreen controllers) need to be changed due to supply chain issues.
Of course, all arguments have two sides, and there are some things to be cognizant of when considering an all-in-one unit, including:
  • Reliance on a single vendor for support and spare parts - Industry standard parts like CPU, RAM and hard disks are cheap and easy to come by, but if your all-in-one unit's motherboard is damaged by a power surge or physical trauma, you'll have to go back to your vendor as the sole supplier of spare parts.  In addition to having only a single source of spare parts, you'll have to be content with the vendor's pricing policies, which may reflect their monopoly position -- especially in the latter part of the product lifecycle.
  • End of Life - Relying on a single manufacturer also means that you have to trust their product lifecycle schedules.  They may say they're going to produce the same hardware for 3, 5, or 7 years (which good vendors will stick to), but if they stop, you're not exactly left with a lot of options.
  • Cost - All-in-one solutions are typically more expensive than a solution built with commodity parts.  They contain custom hardware, they're produced in lower volumes, and they often use higher-end parts than commodity PCs, so of course they're going to cost more.  While my experience has been that they make up for this with lower support costs, your mileage may vary.
While the X40 is gone (but not forgotten), there are a number of all-in-one devices on the market today that have caught my eye.  In fact, the main reason that I'm writing this article is because our product team has spent the past few months working with IBM's latest all-in-one, the IBM Anyplace Kiosk.  Clearly built for self-service from the ground up, this computer probably shares more parts with IBM's SurePOS line than any of its PCs or laptops (which are technically sold by Lenovo now, since they divested those units last year).  A pre-integrated barcode scanner and magnetic stripe reader (MSR), robust bezel covers to hide cables and buttons, and an infrared touchscreen that never needs to be calibrated turn this computing platform into perhaps the best all-in-one I've come across.  And since it uses standard VESA mounting points, a number of vendors have started to offer attractive and stylish stands that turn the little head unit into a full-sized, free-standing kiosk.

It also looks like IBM isn't the only one noticing that there might be a growing market for this type of machine.  Elo recently announced its latest entry in the all-in-one arena with the Elo 1529L TouchComputer.  With a form factor and integrated peripheral options similar to the Anyplace, I expect that this will be a strong offering as well (though we haven't done extensive testing on it yet).  Rumor has it that NCR will also be providing an Anyplace-alternative soon, which is good news since their current offerings (namely the EasyPoint and Personas) don't really play in the same space.  And I wouldn't be surprised if POS manufacturers like Wincor-Nixdorf and Fujitsu get into the act with all-in-one kiosk offerings based on their existing hardware lines.  (In my opinion, the current POS hardware from these vendors is a bit underpowered for multimedia-intensive kiosk applications, even though they usually run on standard Intel or AMD platforms.)

Is an all-in-one unit a good choice for your kiosk project?  If you're shooting for a high-availability system that will be used for retail self-service and merchandising, then yes, it probably is.  The most common peripherals (like the aforementioned bar code scanner and MSR) can be provided directly from the manufacturer, and other devices like thermal printers can be added just as easily as to any other kiosk computer.  From a performance standpoint, you can't get an Anyplace (or any other all-in-one that I'm aware of) with the absolute fastest CPU, but that really doesn't matter for 99% of the self-service applications being developed today.  And with a fixed hardware platform, if you test your application and find that it works properly on unit #1, you can be fairly certain that it's going to work properly with units #100 and #1000, even if they don't get deployed until two or three years from now.

Finally, after having deployed hundreds of kiosks from different vendors, I can confidently say that it is much less expensive to maintain all-in-one units over time.  Between lower hardware failure rates and features that prevent many of the most common post-deployment problems (like touch screens needing recalibration, BIOS settings getting reset after power surges, and cables getting snagged or unplugged), I strongly believe that all things being equal, an all-in-one is going to have higher availability, better reliability, and less costly maintenance than a traditional kiosk during its lifetime.  Of course, this doesn't mean that the services provided by traditional kiosk integrators are no longer needed.  Their logistical expertise, service offerings and design capabilities still make them a valuable partner to anybody planning to deploy more than a few devices.  Only instead of putting desktop PCs inside, perhaps they'll be bolting all-in-ones on top.


Comments   

0 elizio 2008-01-21 18:59
i have a customer looking for ibm part# 4838-132 anyplace kiosk and also 4836-135 1pc each someone contact me 949-837-9000 x104
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0 Alberto Chacho 2008-06-13 15:08
I'm looking for 4838-135 anyplace kiosk or its mainboard FRU:42J2725 or 57P4178
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0 Anthony leali 2008-10-14 21:59
I have 2 IBM anyplace Kiosks - 4836-135. I can be reached at
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0 MIGUEL ANGEL BURGUEO 2009-09-02 00:53
i am looking for ibm part # 51J13401 frontal touch screen kit 15" of IBM 4838-53e anyplace kiosk contact to me in . i am in mexico. tanks
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0 Kiosk Installer 2010-11-08 21:02
Does anyone know where I can get pricing on IBM's Anyplace kiosks: Model 5xx, 7xx, 9xx Has this product line been discontinued? TIA
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0 booker cheung 2011-05-06 03:35
we supply 19" IBM anyplace kiosk free standing enclosure. interested parties contact me at
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0 joepolock 2012-05-11 20:42
hi . I have 3 IBM touch screens 1, 4838-135,1 4836-w35, 1, 4836-135 for parts. 2 have bar code readers.the hard drive, cooling fan,and memmory have been removed. they worked when removed from Borders.please make me an offer or lets talk trade.Joepock.
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0 martin dunne 2016-02-02 10:16
Joe,

What price for the 4838,s any motherboards?

Rgds

M Dunne
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0 Val 2014-03-20 00:38
I'm looking for a ibm 4838 4836 E74 touch screen bezel. Bezel part # is 44VO761
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0 ROBBIE 2016-03-31 17:49
I HAVE 10 IBM ANYPLACE KIOSKS 4838 W35 15" UP FOR GRABS... THEY WERE ALL RECENTLY REMOVED FROM A BUSINESS AND I WANT ONLY $400 AUD A PEICE.. LET ME KNOW...

ROBBIE
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