Just when we think we've gotten a handle on how consumers engage with screens, Apple and Microsoft release new operating systems. This shouldn't seem like something we need to think about too closely, but in fact these releases send a serious message to the digital signage world. One that we ignore at our peril.
Up until now, signage technology and implementation has been built around how people use personal computers and online content. Rightfully so, as we're simply providing another screen, another way to market, inform and engage. And up until now, the operating systems for personal computers were designed to support a consumer that used a mouse and a browser to find information. Apple's Lion OS and Windows 8 are brilliantly designed to do this, faster, and more organized, while also supporting the touchscreen. This last part — the touchscreen — is a relatively new frame of reference for the personal computer experience. And it's on the verge of becoming the norm.
Why is this? It's simple: Tablets. Both of these major operating systems are made for direct manipulation of objects on a screen, a la the tablet screen technology. While many people have quickly become accustomed to swiping and swishing on their smartphones and iPads, this kind of experience is completely different from the way we have worked on computers for ... well, decades. But consumers are decidedly drawn to this tablet way of working, so much so that major operating systems have taken this into account. And so should we with digital signage.
Of course, this capability is here now. Earlier this year hardware developers announced digital signage screens with multitouch capability, and screens that could even respond to the wave of a hand. Intel's AIM suite technology can enable screens to collect visual data and then deliver content specific to the person standing in front of the kiosk, making it an even more personalized experience.
So this changes the expectation for digital signs, doesn't it? Very soon, consumers will expect that every time they are faced with a screen, they will be able to manipulate it with their hands. People will intuitively do this without instruction because they are already doing it on their smartphones, tablets and eventually their computers. Apple and Microsoft have anticipated this (some might say Apple started it). The digital signage world shouldn't overlook this as something only significant to the small-screen market.
I'm willing to place a bet that in the next two years, digital signage screens that don't interact with people like a tablet will be seen as archaic. This statement isn't meant to make you anxious. In fact, it should do the opposite. Think of how much more important digital signage systems will become for business when they can engage customers in this way? And we can get there, fast.
I'm not saying we should follow Microsoft and Apple's lead because of who they are. I'm saying we should follow their lead because they're on to something.
Don Pierson is founder and president at Flypaper Studio Inc., a subsidiary of Trivantis Corp. He has two decades experience in interactive communications and founded Interactive Alchemy before developing what is now Flypaper digital signage software.