Sightings: Microsoft's Surface used for interactive digital signage

Published on: 2015-02-05

MTi's Jason Goldberg informs us:

AT&T Wireless stores and Microsoft announced that Surface would be going live in select AT&T Wireless stores on April 17th.... I visited the San Bruno, CA store on the go-live day.

Each surface table has 8 mobile phones (4 on each side), and one accessory (such as a blue-tooth headset). The sales associates say that the selected handsets are the most popular models, but the handsets due seem to vary from table to table. The accessories are not related to the software on the surface at all, and are non-functional. They are simply attached to the Surface fixture via a thin steel cable on a retractor.

Each handset is attached to a plastic puck with a strip of very high bond adhesive, and a set of zip ties. The puck rests in a magnetic cradle on the side of the Surface fixture. The puck is attached to the fixture via a coiled cord which provides an electronic alarm if removed. The pucks on the Surface tables are different than those used in the rest of the store. However, the electronic alarm is the same system used throughout the store (Invue, formerly Alpha). The bottom of the puck has a sticker attached to it with a unique pictograph (a series of dots) printed with IR reflective ink. So when the handset is rested on the surface of the table, the sticker is facing straight down, and makes it easy for the MS Surface to recognize what product is resting on it. While Microsoft has talked about Surface using cameras to recognize common objects placed on the table, that isn’t what’s happening in this implementation. Here, an IR sensitive CCD is being used to detect the customers touch and a handful of stickers on the back of the handset pucks. The Surface doesn’t have the ability to recognize a customers phone if it is placed on the table, for example. Also if the stickers are applied to the wrong handset, the Surface will have no way to know.

Our take:

While Jason's overall experience was a bit hit-and-miss (he noted that the software wasn't quite as polished as it ought to be), he eventually concedes that the wow factor of the table overshadows the relatively minor flaws that cropped up. While not dissimilar from run-of-the-mill interactive kiosks often used in retail settings to provide self-service access to product information, the Surface system relies on a large screen and digital signage style attract loop content to draw people over and engage them.

Of course, engagement is one of the milestones that retail marketers hope to achieve with any new retail marketing tactic, so if Surface continues to be more than a quick novelty, perhaps it has a chance in the grueling retail landscape.  However, given the current technical glitches and the unproven nature of the physical technology in the often punishing retail environment, we're not convinced that this current generation platform will be the one that everyone uses eventually.

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