Analytical Design Solutions Inc.
The self-service industry has another new technology to absorb: mobile devices. These devices, such as the iPad, have become more functional and are available in a broader range of products. As companies seek new technology opportunities, usage has expanded from the consumer, the original intended user, to self-service. Unfortunately, this change in usage causes security issues similar to kiosk self-service applications. Security issues are mostly unavoidable in the iPad; however, the good news is that these issues can be addressed in Android devices.
Why deploy mobile devices as self-service apps? There are a number of factors. Mobile devices are easy to connect to Wi-Fi or cellular data networks. They have mature and intuitive touch screen interfaces. They also have the flexibility to be mounted in a fixed kiosk pedestal or to be deployed as a true mobile device. Since mobile devices were designed for consumer use, and therefore not made to last as long as higher-quality OEM devices, mobile devices usually cost significantly less.
What applications are well suited for mobile devices? The sky is the limit, within the constraints of the hardware, including hospitality, retail, health-care and even construction. For example, health-care providers have begun offering paperless check-ins and hotels have used mobile devices to display all of their services electronically within each room.
The Apple iOS iPad was the initial breakthrough tablet device, but since its introduction there have been many Google Android tablet devices announced. Despite being first to market and such a success that it opened the self-service industry to the possibilities of mobile devices, the iOS operating system is surprisingly not well-suited for self-service. Self-service imposes many demands on an operating system that are far different from the standard consumer use of the device; unfortunately, by having a closed operating system, Apple has tied the hands of anyone wishing to write robust self-service applications. On the other hand, Android has an extremely open operating system that is well-suited for self-service. When Microsoft ships Windows 8, which is planned to target mobile devices, then it too will be a viable platform for self-service.
However, similar to the difference between a PC used in self-service and one used in a consumer environment, the mobile device needs to be protected from abuse, negligent or not, by the self-service user. The user’s personal information needs to be similarly protected, since the device will be used next by a complete stranger. This protection takes many forms.
Protect the desktop/launcher
It is critical to prevent the user from accessing the desktop/app launcher. The user should be allowed to run the specified application, but prevented from configuring or executing any other applications as well as downloading and installing any new applications.
If the application uses a browser, and most will, it is important to ensure the user is limited only to the domains or pages allowed. In addition, if displaying Internet Web pages, then links such as mailto tags or file downloads need to be blocked. When the user has finished, all traces of that user’s presence on the device must be removed.
An important aspect of any self-service deployment is the ability to remotely monitor the device to determine its current status. Is your application running? Are any components reporting errors? For a mobile device, the requirements can expand to include also the physical location of the device and the battery life remaining.
Mobile devices have one major drawback: they are mobile. It is important for the user to a) know the device needs to be returned, b) indicate to the user when the device is about to leave an approved operation area and c) lock down the device and provide retrieval information to the deployer when the device has left the approved operation area.
Mobile devices have great promise to improve the self-service experience; however, there are challenges to mobility that must be addressed. Today, Android OS is the best platform for self-service.
Jim Kruper is president of Analytical Design Solutions Inc., developers of KioWare kiosk software.