Microsoft released the Windows 8 operating system in October after heavy anticipation that was soon followed by an almost unavoidable (especially if you are a sports fan) television advertising blitz of snapping keyboards, live tiles and picture passwords.
Microsoft has since come full-circle with the "MetroModern UI" experience that was first delivered by their Windows Phone 7, giving users an incredible, innovative experience to navigating their phones, PCs and tablets by using common touch gestures across devices.
Ironically, it is the touch experience on PCs that Microsoft has received the most criticism for. Critics claim a lack of seamlessness in the mixture of a traditional desktop experience (minus the Start menu) with a brand new touch-tailored, app-based Start environment.
It is, however, my belief that the touch-friendly Windows 8 OS that has inspired a revolution of touch-enabled tablets, convertibles and all-in-one PCs from OEMs will shift the digital signage market. Already, digital signage end-users and software developers have been asking about Windows 8 tablets and all-in-one PCs as an alternative to expensive touchscreens and all-in-ones from traditional media player and display manufacturers, or having a custom solution built.
It ultimately comes down to the decision to make or buy. Do you really need that integrator to custom design and build you 10,000 10.1-inch displays with a hard drive, single-board computer and touchscreen? Especially when Dell, HP, Samsung and even Microsoft (I confess I am writing this article from my Surface) are already building millions of devices at price points that your integrator cannot match? Or do you spend your resources on what you really do well — developing innovative digital signage apps & content?
Touch technology will continue to grow as digital signage continues to evolve and see its growth driven by the measurable ROI and interactivity that touch brings to marketers. As one of my colleagues reminds me almost daily, "we approach a display and touch it because we are in the business. Our kids demand that the display be touch-enabled."
While the consumer PC and tablet market may only address screen sizes 27-inches and below, many marketers are realizing that for a 1:1 experience, a larger size may not be required, as they are only used by a single user at a time. It's also easy to forget that nearly all of these devices already have cameras built into their bezels, unlike the LFD manufacturers, making them ideal for kiosk applications that need monitoring, video analytics, video conferencing and digital photo-taking capabilities.
When you consider that a large proportion of digital signage software providers is developing for and deploying on Windows and Windows Embedded, you can begin to see how consumer PCs and tablets may quickly replace bulky kiosks — especially for indoor environments.
Of course, I am not implying that large-format displays will disappear or be any less important than they are today. They serve a very valuable purpose of gaining consumers' attention, but after the attention is gained, it's the kiosk's touchscreen capabilities on which the revenue-generating activity takes place and can be measured. This is why we see many kiosk companies placing large-format displays on top of their kiosks, to draw customers in and drive them to perform an action on the smaller touchscreens below.
In a sense, the impact of Windows 8 may not so much be the capabilities of the operating system itself, rather the influence the OS has had on bringing touchscreen PC devices mainstream.
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.