Tablets have a bright future in digital signage, but there are hurdles to overcome first

September 19, 2012

When you hear the term 'digital signage', you may think about large, tiled LED displays being used in shopping malls, projectors at museums or even touch-screen monitors situated in retail stores. 

These displays are often used for outdoor advertising, way-finding or even for retail transactions. And while it is early days, the first signs are emerging that tablets could have a place in this market too.

Over the last year, TabTimes has seen Apple's iPad being used for promoting products in Apple retail stores, for way-finding at exhibitions and even by two of the world’s best soccer teams — Barcelona and the Spanish national side — for promoting their sponsors (Qatar Foundation and Nike for Barcelona; Adidas for Spain). 

This roll-out isn't just restricted to iOS either, with Samsung having deployed a number of Galaxy Tabs tablets on the London Eye at the end of last year.

Given this surge in tablet demand, hardware vendors are looking to tap into the new trend.

Digital signage vendor iDisplay announced a range of Android tablet displays back in November, AOpen launched a line of rugged digital signage tablets in March, while London-based firm Image Holders is also competing in this area.

One company, Touch2View, is even unashamedly promoting its 'iTab' product (32-82 inch displays) as a ‘larger iPad’.

There seems to be a particular enthusiasm for tablets being used as retail kiosks. Utah-based AmorActive recently launched its own iPad kiosk solution, while mobile payments firm Square has claimed that most retailers will replace cash registers with iPads over the next 18 months.

Tablet ad engagement levels are high

It is certainly easy to see the attraction of using tablets for what folks in the industry call digital out of home (DOOH) advertising.

Tablets are relatively inexpensive for system integrators to install; costing around $500 in total compared to $2,000+ for more traditional signage displays, and can clearly fit in smaller places. They can also be managed easily on an individual or multi-device basis, while the one device per user makes tablets particularly attractive to advertisers.

This is good news as people appear more willing to engage with ads on the tablet.

A report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in May found that nearly half (47%) of tablet users engage with ads on their device more than once a week, compared to 25% for smartphone users.

A separate study from the Yankee Group last month concluded that 27% of tablet owners clicked on an in-app ad in the first three months of 2012, with this figure reaching 22% for smartphone owners.

But are tablets really suitable for DOOH?

However, for all the excitement over tablets — especially as a Point of Sale (POS) device, doubts remain whether tablets can really succeed in DOOH.

In particular, some question whether the “free floating” nature of the iPad could be a problem logistically or make the device more likely to be stolen. Others in the industry have openly criticized the form factor’s suitability for the retail sector. There’s also the question over battery life (most signage displays will be used for up to 12 hours a day) and whether prolonged use can invalidate hardware warranties.

Digital signage distributer Seneca blogged last month that adding a tablet into a retail kiosk equated to “digital signage failure”, mainly because the tablet’s consumer-friendly build is not designed to withstand the demands of the retail environment.

“Kiosks were designed to be used by a large number of people. It is fairly obvious that a consumer grade product, such as a tablet, would not be robust enough over the long term to withstand the constant use," said Seneca’s Sarah Colson.

“Consider the life of a touch screen kiosk in a mall environment.  Besides constant use from shoppers, that system will be subject to spills from soft drinks, crumbs from snacks, heavy finger taps from unthinking users, and the need to be cleaned or disinfected from time to time. 

“[Do you] think a consumer grade tablet (or even all in one PC) can withstand that kind of punishment?”

All of this would seem to back up the view of one analyst, who reckons it’s still early days for tablets in the digital signage market.

“There are not enough tablet devices in play to have significance [in DOOH] so far and the biggest use we have seen is by manufacturers for self-promotion in retail stores and at trade events", ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr told TabTimes.

“But there is an opportunity for tablets to offer an interactive experience with the consumer," Orr add. "Flat-panel HDTVs provide more visible real estate, but are costly and best suited for a group setting. The size and price-points of media tablets make them more appropriate for one-to-one use.”


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