Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Adding value with tablets and touchscreens

I recently visited the Toronto Auto Show and couldn't help but notice all the tablets that were installed next to each vehicle.  I was surprised to find many were nothing more than interactive brochures, but it doesn't need to be that way.

If you're going to invest in developing content and deploying interactive technologies in a trade show environment, better ask yourself a few questions:

1- Am I adding value?

Sometimes, a printed sign may actually be the best way to deliver your message.  Unless you have a good concept that requires a tablet, don't invest in the technology just for the sake of it.  For technologies to be more than a passing fad, they must add value otherwise they are a waste of money.

Letting me spin a 3D rendering of a virtual car on a 7 inch tablet when I'm standing right in front of the vehicle achieves absolutely nothing.  It is a waste of time.

2- Is the technology making a difference?

Look for opportunities to innovate but stay away from cheap gimmicks (see above).  If your competitors are displaying similar content using the same method, you are doing it wrong.  Leverage technology to "wow" your audience.  Just slapping a tablet in front of someone won't make the experience memorable.  You need to do more and if you can't, do something different.

Case in point... I'm 3 pages into a car spec sheet on a tablet when I'm offered a QR code.  I scan the code with my smartphone and I am redirected to a web page that shows me the exact same information.  This is another wasted opportunity.

Let's think about this for a moment... You're asking your audience to dig through their pockets to fish out their phone, fire up a QR scanner, scan the code and then... you rehash the same information they just flipped through.  Why not have the person enter a contest or sign up for some type of reward?

3- Are you making efficient use of these technologies?

Getting back to the example above, why not simply place QR codes on the vehicle itself so people can retrieve information about the various features of the car as they are experiencing it.  Turn it into an "Easter Egg hunt" of sorts.  This is how you engage and entertain your audience.  Sometimes, flipping pages on a small touch screen is simply not enough.

I have seen great examples of useful and entertaining installations that use tablets and touchscreens.  There are interactive restaurant menus, retail product finders, multimedia kiosks and many more...

To be successful, your next interactive project must connect with your audience and add value.  Otherwise you may as well call up your print shop.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A few good digital signage blogs

I try to post articles that will be useful to anyone interested in the digital signage space but there are lots of good blogs that cover this subject. Here is a list of some of the best resources that I regularly visit.  Some will be familiar but I tried to list the sites I read on a regular basis.

By the way, if you publish any useful digital signage related info and I missed your site, please forward me your URL and include a short description.


One of the best known source of information in this industry.  DailyDOOH  covers every aspect of the digital signage space.  Great source of industry news (and gossip).  DailyDOOH is based in the UK with contributors worldwide.


This is a digital signage blog written by the team at ConnectedSign LLC.  This is a blog that dispenses great advice to anyone looking to enter this business.  The company has been around for many years and has many great projects behind its belt.   Good place to start when you're looking for inspiration.

Digital Signage Insider

This blog is written by Bill Gerba of Wirespring.  Bill has been reporting on the state of the industry since the early days.  You will find on this site business insights and metrics that are really useful when planning your next roll out.

Digital Signage Pulse

Nurlan Urazbaev's site is a daily archive of digital signage related articles.  If you want to keep up with the latest digital signage news, be sure to bookmark this site and visit it often.  It is a great source of information.

UBC Digital Signage Blog

The University of British Columbia's digital signage team publishes a blog that covers the use of this technology in an educational setting.  Anyone interested in this space should spend some time there and on the department's web site.  This is a great example of how to deploy and use digital signage in a school, college or university.  Great info.


Good articles written by long time consultant, blogger and industry commentator, David Haynes.  This site is a fine source of information on the companies operating in this space and the people behind them.  David has a great writing style which makes for an entertaining read.  Be sure to drop by.  You will learn something.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to become your own broadcaster

Just read a great article on David Hayne's Sixteen-Nine blog where he discussed a new solution for "micro-broadcasting" from a US company called West Pond Enterprises.  The company sells a technology that lets network operators broadcast video signals inside retail spaces and large facilities (think convention centers, arenas, and similar venues).

Up until now, remote content updates required a hard wire or WiFi connection and neither solution is ideal in large facilities.  

Laying out network cabling is expensive and once it's done you don't really want to move it around.  WiFi is much more flexible than cables but environmental factors can impact it's reliability.  Then there are the  potential security issues, interference from radio and electronic equipment...  The list goes on.

In many cases, IT folks don't want you near their networks.  They don't want your data to eat up their bandwidth and they certainly don't want their LAN exposed to security breaches. 

This is when a "white space" broadcast delivery system becomes interesting.
And it gets better...
  • In many situations you only need a single digital signage player (meaning one software license and PC or other dedicated hardware) per location to feed multiple screens.
  • You can use any TV screen with a digital tuner.
Pricing puts it between cabled installations and WiFi but when you factor the need for one PC and signage player license per site, you're looking at a very cost effective option.

As David says in his post, we've all be told consumer grade screens is a big no-no in this business and  most commercial screens lack a tuner but in some applications.  However I'm sure there is a retailer out there who would love to mount inexpensive digital TVs on top of their end-caps.  Not to mention QSR locations and other environments that are less than PC friendly.

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

Monday, February 4, 2013

Small PC computing will dominate in 2013

2013 is shaping up to be a big year for small, low-cost computing devices.  These devices are becoming increasingly popular in digital signage applications.

Many well established software vendors are lining up with their own Android players. We have already heard of a few announcements during the ISE show in Amsterdam and we will certainly see many more at the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas later this month.

So here are 3 technologies that are gaining traction in digital signage:

  1. Android devices
  2. Raspberry Pi
  3. Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing)

Here is why small PC computing will dominate in 2013...

Android based digital signage players

The Android OS is already well established with tablets and phones.  Hardware designed to run Android is very inexpensive and its video playback capabilities provide a very attractive option for software vendors.  Think of it as an Android tablet without the screen.  You end up with either a small "puck" (think Apple TV or Roku box) or a stick that is easily hidden behind any screen. 

Android based Players provide an affordable solution for large deployments that don't require all of the capabilities of a traditional PC.  There is another reason as well.  Many electronics manufacturers are jumping on the "Smart TV" bandwagon which means the market is about to be flooded with screens that already have an Android device built-in.  This is potentially a game changer because it greatly simplifies screen/player deployments.  

No more special brackets to mount a PC behind a screen.  No more cables.  Come to think of it, no more PC!

In order for Android based solutions to become a dominant factor in digital signage, they will need to prove they are adequate for 24/7, year-round usage.  They must also be able to do more than full screen media playback.  For example, they should support some level of screen divisions (content playback zones) and live data feeds.  We already see HTML5 based solutions perform really well on that front so it will be interesting to see how robust Android based players will be.

The Raspberry Pi

What started as a small, low-cost PC kit project for students and hobbyists has started to attract attention from many digital signage entrepreneurs.

The Raspberry Pi is interesting because it can run various flavors of Linux, including Android.  It is also extremely small and very inexpensive.  You can purchase an assembled board without a case for about $35.  Throw in a case and you're still below $50 for a complete multimedia capable PC.  I have also seen complete kits with the OS and cables go for $80 so there are many sourcing options for those who want to try the platform.
No wonder more than a million units have been sold in a year.  With these sales figures, you can bet many of these boards have ended up in software developer's hands.  The Raspberry Pi is another great example of where the PC industry is headed.  Small, inexpensive, quasi-purpose built hardware running on open source operating systems.  Judging by all of the activity around these devices we can expect to see more software solutions developed for these platforms.

The Intel NUC

The Intel NUC was initially announced as an educational and hobbyist PC platform.  Perhaps Intel wanted to test the industry's response to this new ultra-small PC but since it's introduction, the platform has become quite popular as many PC hardware integrators launched their own NUC based PCs.

So what's the big deal here?  Well for starters, this is a full-featured Intel PC.  It is not a tablet hardware platform or a "dumbed down" device.  It's a full featured Intel PC that can drive dual-screens in full HD.  

This unit will run any modern OS and is compatible with most digital signage software solutions already on the market. Software vendors don't need to recompile their software players so you're getting the best a PC can deliver in a really small footprint.

A few specialized hardware integrators like Stealth have been building small PCs for many years.  These were mostly designed for mobile applications and harsh environments.  These PCs were very expensive and they didn't always offer sufficient performance for digital signage.

I think Intel's NUC platform will be very popular for some types of applications but pricing and availability will dictate how well the platform does in the digital signage marketplace.