2010.15 | Multitouch Kiosks

Amazon Window ShopGiven the recent excitement around the iPad launch, I’ve had some interest from customers in a multitouch type kiosk for use in retail environments.  While it sounds like an awesome idea, and is sure to be an exciting idea to the marketing team, there are some considerations for a kiosk that give me pause on installing a multitouch kiosk in a retail environment at this point. 

First, consider the application look and feel.  Both Web 2.0 and Apple have definitely raised the bar as far as user experience is concerned.  There are now some incredible looking applications and interfaces available, and as that is the common consumer experience today, retailers want to keep pace.  Nobody is satisfied with traditional kiosk applications that look like Windows XP anymore, and they shouldn’t be.   What retailers want to be put in front of their consumers in a store is something like Amazon’s Windowshop. I heartily agree with providing a unique, entertaining and functional UI for a kiosk solution.  It’s engaging, entertaining and fun.  It’s retail.  But is a multitouch kiosk required to deliver it?

Platforms like Adobe Flash and HTML5 make it possible to provide the same sort of user experience as an Apple solution, with movements that mirror the physical world, use shiny glassy buttons and provide images of product swooshing around the screen.  This can be done without multi-touch.  This look and feel is a big part of the draw for marketing departments, provides a lot of the wow factor, and does not require multitouch.

Second, consider the audience for a retail kiosk – the masses.  Multitouch works well on the iPhone.  You can zoom on photos, you can drag icons, you can double tap to zoom.  Macbooks use multi-touch as well.  Two fingers on the pad allows for image rotation, dragging four fingers down the pad will move apps aside to reveal the desktop. These capabilities are useful, but I would argue that they are not yet embedded in the collective consciousness and are only recognizable to power users.  While we throw around the term ‘intuitive’, it’s really the functionality to which people are accustomed.   Is double clicking with a mouse intuitive?  Is right clicking?  I have had a hard time with some new users to PCs that drag their icons all over the screen.  Many people don’t even know that they can scroll on their PCs by running their finger along the side and bottom of the touchpad.  I have a hard time believing that today’s ‘average consumer’ is going to grasp a great deal more than touching the screen the way they do today.  That may change with the iPad revolution that many pundits are calling for, but until that time, keeping an interface simple is key to an effective kiosk solution.  Multitouch does not have any visual indicators of controls on the screen like scroll buttons, arrows and the like.  

Finally, it’s important to consider retail hardening.  Multitouch is relatively new to retail self service.  While there are a number of consumer grade solutions with touch screens (the HP TouchSmart PC line is a great example), it is important to use a commercial grade kiosk solution in a retail environment.  Solutions like the ones I deal with every day are built to be used in a retail environment – they are ruggedized, are tested for vibration and EMF, and are built to handle spills and dusty environments.  To ensure the best ROI, it is key to invest in a retail hardened platform.  There are a few on the market, but they are not yet common.

Multitouch is great technology and is the future.  The tough part of leveraging it in a retail environment is finding the right use for it and making it simple for average consumers to use.  Given the creativity and ideas to date, I’m sure we can look forward to some ground breaking kiosk applications.

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