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Until recently, digital signage has been a one-to-many experience, indiscriminately broadcasting static messages to audiences in shopping malls, quick-service restaurants, movie theaters and airports.

While information displays such as menu boards and flight schedules will continue to be used in a one-to-many fashion, advertising will accelerate down the path one-to-one advertising is blazing.

Technologies such as touchscreens, gesturing and mobile device interaction provide both increased and measurable ROI to advertisers. Anonymous video analytics technologies such as Intel's AIM Suite may be used in parallel, recognizing viewer demographics and targeting content accordingly.

Each of these technologies help advertisers connect with their audience, understanding that each person is unique and requires a message that appeals to him/her.

Welcome to the age of one-to-one digital signage.

However, with one-to-one signage also come challenges. For example, if you are using that beautiful 55-inch LED to connect with a single male user — let's call him Jon (See what I did there?) — then everyone else becomes disengaged while Jon interacts with the sign via touch, gesture, or his mobile device. Nobody else can use the sign until Jon is done with it.

That makes for a very targeted, but also very expensive interaction. The display itself remains fairly expensive, and that robust media player that requires all that processing power isn't cheap either. The development of the software then becomes the most scalable piece.

Once developed, the software is mostly a fixed cost: meaning that, no matter how many different players and screens you install it on, the cost of the software application will not increase. Of course, I am generalizing for discussion purposes, but you get the idea.

I told you that I was excited to talk about tablets, so let's move along.

Tablets, due to their small screen size and touch interaction are commonly used in a 1:1 experience. Nearly all of us have smartphones these days, and many of us also carry tablets. Until now, tablets have primarily been thought of as user-owned consumer devices, with a few iPads deployed in sports bars and restaurants to simply browse or order from the menu.

So what's exciting about tablets? Well, for one, they are scalable.

Samsung just announced the recent update and expansion of their Galaxy Tab products, with updated (and cheaper) 10.1-inch and 7.0-inch Tab 2 models and a brand new line of Galaxy Players in 4.2-inch and 3.6-inch varieties.

The 10.1-inch unit sells for under $500 and 3.6-inch unit is less than half of that price. Considering they include a touchscreen, operating system and built-in player, that's a pretty compelling price point for a single digital sign. More than likely you could deploy several of these units for the cost of a single traditional digital sign.

Not only is cost an advantage, but remember to consider the application. You may need that 55-inch LED display to get someone's attention as they walk by, but you certainly don't need it tied up while someone buys a single movie ticket or downloads a recipe for dinner. A tablet would be just fine for those applications.

The small form factor of a tablet can also be an advantage. Think of all the places you couldn't fit a 22-inch display, let alone a media player. Grocery store shelves, shopping carts, gas pumps, train, plane or automobile seatbacks ... You get the idea. As it turns out, 1:1 can be done almost anywhere, and it doesn't have to break the bank.

Previously, retailers were forced to OEM (original equipment manufacture) a solution using open frame displays and single board computers for such small screens, then place them in custom chassis or large kiosks. There's no doubt this process is expensive and creates a very difficult lifecycle to manage. It's the answer to the classic "make vs. buy" question.

Now, tablet-based signage solutions are primed to explode as the 1:1 model continues to drive ROI in the industry.

Manufacturers, however, still need to address the needs of the market. Consumers and businesses have very different requirements. Businesses need RFID and NFC technologies to interact with other devices, card swipes to accept payment, ruggedization to prevent failures and controls to ensure that the user is locked-in to the application and not checking their email on your digital sign.

When manufacturers begin approaching these tablets not solely from a consumer aspect, but also a business/OEM model, this arena could explode overnight.

When it happens, just remember — I told you so.

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Latest posts by Jon Parks
Jon Parks
Jon is a product marketing manager for Avnet's Brilliant Digital Signage, focused on building supplier relationships driving digital signage solutions for Avnet's reseller and OEM/ISV customers. He's has been with Avnet for five years supporting supplier marketing for the Embedded and Sales Acceleration groups.
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