Airport food and beverage operator OTG has already deployed a thousand iPad-based kiosks at restaurants in New York’s JFK International and LaGuardia and plans to grow that number to 7,000 by the end of 2013 with additional deployments planned for Minneapolis-St. Paul International and Toronto Pearson International airports.
But these aren’t kiosks in the traditional sense if you’re thinking of a heavily encased computer that can’t be moved.
"The iPad is secured by a cable, but we’re trying to avoid keeping it boxed in like a traditional kiosk, so we keep it tethered but encourage people to hold it as if it were their own personal device,” explains OTG's CTO Albert Lee.
OTG started experimenting with adding tablets to its airport restaurants in 2010. Lee says one lesson learned from that pilot project, was to free the iPad from the restrictions of being in a case so consumers could enjoy a more personal experience. Today, OTG’s iPads are used by airline passengers to order food, browse the Internet and play games as well as track their flight status.
But there are still some restrictions.
Lee explains that OTG curates what apps consumers can access, making sure they’re child safe. Users can’t access the Settings or the App Store.
“It can’t be a free for all, we need to control the ecosystem,” he says. “The beauty of it is that there are millions of apps out there and we can decide what we want to offer.”
That said Lee believes strongly that consumers should have an iPad experience. “We don’t believe in creating a false front end. You still have the home screen like a traditional Apple device,” he says. “We’ve found users tend to react better that way when they don’t feel like they’re being cheated out of the experience they’re used to.”
OTG says it also has deals with publishers to feature their apps prominently.
The iPad debuted the same year of OTG’s pilot project and Lee says there was nothing else as compelling. “We looked at other touchscreen solutions and even today there would have be a really compelling device out there for us to consider switching,” he says.
Reseller simplifies distribution and setup
A more recent change was contracting with New York-based reseller and Apple specialist Tekserve in August as OTG’s iPad provider and primary consultant.
“The advantage for us is that they work as an extension to our own operations,” says Lee. "Tekserve gave us the opportunity to upstream a lot of this work so my staff can work on what has to happen in the field."
Tekserve follows a 40-point checklist to properly configure and secure each iPad which are delivered ready to install out-of-the-box.
"What used to take us two hours setting up each iPad, now takes 10-15 minutes to just unbox and connect each unit," says Lee.
Tekserve's CTO Aaron Freimark said working with OTG was a natural fit "because we believe that iPads as interactive kiosks will disrupt what we know of customer service today. Putting appropriate technology in traveler’s hands allows them to explore their options more confidently, and more importantly, have fun with it."
Up next, iPad Mini?
OTG has no near terms plans to deploy Apple’s latest tablet, the iPad Mini, but Lee says it’s being evaluated.
“There is a place for the Mini, not in a traditional kiosk environment, but it’s a fantastic replacement for the kind of applications restaurants use pen and paper for,” says Lee.
The iPad Mini could also end up in the hands of airport customers, but Lee says OTG won’t make that decision until it’s been tested in the field.
“We would put it out there and see if it’s practical, see if it’s too small,” says Lee. “We’re an experience-driven organization and if it feels like we have to explain to customers how it works, that probably means it’s not a good match.”