The recent Digital Signage Expo trade show in Las Vegas was the first time we’ve noticed well-established companies in the digital signage sector move from dabbling on the R&D bench to actively marketing solutions based on the Android operating system.
A handful of companies – actually not as many as we might have expected – were showing working versions of solutions that had moved fully off of Windows or Linux to Google’s open source operating system. While we have all seen things at trade shows that never make it beyond the proof of concept stage, we think the industry is on the cusp of a substantial shift to Android because of the advantages it offers.
Android is labelled and known as the go-to operating system for smartphones and tablets not made by Apple, but there’s actually much more to it. It’s a complete operating system, middleware layer, and application layer that runs on top of a Linux foundation. It already has strong device and communication protocol support, and there is a huge inventory of Android applications (or “apps”) that add functionality and open these devices up to back-end, instantly-deployable solutions.
In other words, a lot of the work that might be needed to develop digital signage and digital retailing solutions on conventional Windows and Linux PC platforms has already been done for Android by a huge, strong and global community of developers. What might take a team of developers months to plan, code and test may already exist as a free or low-cost app in the Android market, now called Google Play.
As an industrial computer company, we absolutely need to be in step with where the market is going, and we see an inevitable shift to Android. We’re already seeing robust systems based on x86 (standard PC) hardware and coupled with Android showing up in vertical markets like self-service, kiosk, touchscreen, and digital signage applications. Moving off of Windows to Android inevitably lowers costs and development time.
Budget trimming is always important, but what’s more interesting, though, is how Android bridges the divide between consumer and industrial devices. Consumer devices like smartphones and tablets are, in retail settings, querying the same data, tendering the same transactions, and applying the same services as those used by devices like industrial touchscreen PCs.
Application providers and system integrators are using or developing Android-ready “apps” that serve both markets, knowing there are many millions of devices in the pockets and purses of consumers that run Android. Apple’s iPhones may get the media attention, but the Android user base and market share is larger and growing much faster with first-time buyers. One manufacturer does iOS, while many smartphone makers are steadily pushing out new Android handsets and tablets.
At the DSE show in early March, we’re told the Android devices getting attention as digital signage players were low-cost consumer devices. There will certainly be a market for that, but we know that just like what we saw with PCs in digital signage and digital retailing, enterprise clients working in big scale projects and in tough environments are going to want industrial-grade Android devices, NOT set-top boxes, because of reliability and the assurance of uniform manufacturing and supply.
So the opportunity is there – but what do we see happening with Android-based digital signage and related systems? Beyond the cost and development community advantages, we see a particular opportunity in the new breed of phones that are already prevalent in Asia and now coming into western markets. These phones have something called Near Field Communications (or NFC).
It’s short-range wireless technology that lends itself well to communications to and from passive targets. Consumers with NFC phones can easily do anything from hold their device to a tag to download information, make payments and tap into services with none of the complication seen with other proximity marketing efforts like Bluetooth and QR code scanning. NFC involves no more than putting a device in reach of the radio tag. It just works.
In retail, that will show itself in being able to pay for goods by tapping the phone to a reader that accesses the owner’s “soft wallet” and initiates a payment and hooks into a loyalty and rewards program.
In advertising, it might mean walking up to a digital poster, tapping a tag and getting a near instant download of a trailer for a new Hollywood movie, as well as showtimes for cinemas in the area. There are already trials in the field with that, in several countries.
At trade shows, printed marketing materials (that most never keep) are replaced by digital files downloaded by NFC to phones. There’s no added weight to carry, so show-goers are more likely to keep and read the information. Scanning attendee badges for prospective customers suddenly gets easier and far less costly and cumbersome.
In museums and exhibits, Android phones with NFC can offer deeper, richer and targeted information to visitors with simple taps.
That’s just a start. Consumers are now inseparable from their smartphones and Android is clearly going to be a dominant player in this technology for the foreseeable future. Any business that wants to communicate and transact with consumers – in ways consumers want – should be looking seriously at how they can plug into and take advantage of Android.
If you would like to read more on this topic, please click here to access the technical whitepaper Cloud Services and Intelligent Technology Android / NFC for Commercial Applications