As the self-service industry grows, kiosks will be called to serve a wide variety of vertical and horizontal markets. While kiosk interfaces develop in myriad ways, browser-based applications are still appropriate in many deployments.
Browser-based content is any application that can be displayed using an Internet browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. This can include simple HTML, Java applications, videos, or any application that runs on third-party snap-ins like Flash.
You may be surprised at what will run in a browser. While not necessarily ideal for kiosk use, most Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint run in Internet Explorer.
Most new applications are browser-based for several reasons.
Most are for a company’s Web site or are in some way integrated with it, and browser-based applications solve many system administration and support headaches.
A typical client/server application requires that client software be installed on the user’s computer, and that requires that the installation process be able to handle differences in operating system versions and hardware capabilities. Also, the installation of one application can sometimes break an existing application.
All of these issues increase helpdesk support costs. If the application is browser-based and installed on the company’s intranet, installation and configuration headaches are reduced because a browser is all that’s required.
With so many browser-based applications, it is only natural that some will be deployed on a kiosk. So why not rewrite the application using a kiosk-specific development platform? Because it's not always possible.
Some browser-based applications are developed by third parties, and you don’t control the source code. The human resource market is a perfect example.
Dozens of browser-based HR self-service vendors are out in the marketplace. They deploy their software on the end-user company’s server or using the ASP model on their own server. In either case, the end-user company has no access to the source code.
Most common, however, is when a company develops a useful and resource-rich Web site before it realizes its ROI would be enhanced if users other than pure Internet users could access their site.
The retail market is a great example. Many retail companies have excellent Web sites that would provide value to their in-store clients via a self-service kiosk. The cost to develop a parallel application solely for kiosk use would be prohibitive. Government and banking/credit union markets also have excellent Web resources that make sense to deploy to kiosks.
Browser-based development tends to cost less because the development uses industry-standard Web-based tools that a large pool of developers already know how to use.
Browser-based applications also provide more flexibility in terms of where the application runs. High-bandwidth static content can easily be hosted on the kiosk, while low-bandwidth dynamic content can be hosted on a centralized server.
The rapid adoption of service-oriented architecture, which at its core uses Internet-based technologies, is very easy to implement within a browser-based application.
A major difference between a typical Web application and a browser-based kiosk application is the length of time the browser is running. A kiosk browser runs months on end, unlike a quick open-and-close Internet browser. That difference raises the bar for quality. A poorly-written application or plug-in that crashes often or leaks memory is only an annoyance to an Internet user. On a kiosk, those issues are crises.
An easy way to ruin a kiosk project is to match the wrong hardware configuration with a browser-based application. In dual-use applications: i.e., Internet/intranet and kiosk, it is highly unlikely that the application will be useable in a pure touchscreen environment. In that case, provide the kiosk user with the same tools (a mouse and keyboard) used for the desktop version.
When the browser-based application is designed properly, there are no issues with deploying a touchscreen-only kiosk. And if it makes sense from a business point of view, then the same application can be deployed to the Internet/intranet.
Browser kiosk software
Just because a kiosk application can be developed as a browser-based application using industry-standard Web-development tools does not exempt the kiosk from requiring specialized kiosk software. At a minimum, kiosk software is required to:
·lockdown the OS, browser and desktop
·elegantly handle browser errors
·manage the user’s session
More likely, kiosk software also will need to:
·manage attract-screen sequencing
·manage second-monitor content
·interface with specialized kiosk hardware like security mats, proximity switches, barcode readers and magnetic-stripe readers
·provide custom toolbars
·collect usage statistics
·monitor kiosk hardware
·Communicate with a centralized management server
The demand to deploy browser-based applications within the self-service space will only grow.