iPads are not new technology. Neither are mobile point-of-sale (POS) systems. Lots of independent artists and small businesses use apps and iPhone plug-ins to swipe customer credit cards, but largely, self-service POS systems haven’t caught on in a big way. Few large retail chains use them, and often times (i.e. in the Apple Store), employees wield the devices themselves, mitigating the need for a check-out line, but not handing over control to the customer.
I don’t have to think far past my own experience to wonder why this is. This past weekend, I was in Boston with my dad. We were at a self-service kiosk station for the metro, and it took us at least four tries to pay for two, single-ride tickets. I’ve used probably close to fifty self-service subway ticket kiosks at stations from Shanghai to Athens. Boston should have been easy. The problem wasn’t that it was difficult. It was just different than most kiosks I’d used before. And I consider myself relatively technology savvy. So, this issue comes sharply into play for retailers, especially those who cater to a demographic predominantly made up of users who are 50 plus.
So, when a self-service iPad kiosk showed up at Panera Bread, it got some attention. A reader of The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) posted a picture of an iPad kiosk being used at a Panera in Braintree, Massachusetts. Apparently, you can order and pay at the station, and then have your meal delivered to your table: a huge convenience for frequent customers who know what they want and don’t have menu questions.
Lilitab, a company that creates tablet enclosures and kiosks, links to the TUAW article on their site, claiming that the Panera kiosks are lilitab products. Lilitab sells a variety of ipad kiosks, including freestanding, wall mount, tabletop, and arm-based systems. The lilitab kiosk securely encloses an iPad in a material called ABS, making it essentially tamper-proof. Clients can choose to hide power and home buttons or make them accessible to users. ABS apparently doesn’t impede wireless, 3G, or Bluetooth signals either. Retailers also have the option of silk-screening logos and graphics on the kiosk enclosure as well.
In March, Macy’s used the lilitab kiosks at stores nationwide in conjunction with the NBC reality show Fashion Star. Customers had the option of purchasing the fashions seen on the show, in-store, via the iPad kiosk.
Beyond retail stores and restaurants, self-service is even catching on in the public arena. The Tennessee Driver’s License Issuance office will be installing 40 self-service, stand-alone kiosks in places like libraries, police precincts, and county clerk’s offices. To supplement the kiosks, drivers centers will have 72 iPads that are mostly self-service. The idea is to simplify routine transactions, and free up the driver service centers to deal with more complex cases.
Users will still need to know their driver’s license numbers and must have a credit or debit card on hand. The kiosks even have high-tech facial recognition that ensures the person on file is the one standing on front of the camera.
Projects like this are forcing a larger segment of the purchasing population into a transactional relationship with technology. And as these kiosks become more user-friendly, the more friendly users become towards them.
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