The Perspective 
Monday, 04 April 2011

Jim Kruper
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.

Browser lockdown
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.

Remote monitoring
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.

Device security
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.

Posted by: Jim Kruper AT 11:53 am   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  
Can you give us more details (perhaps a part 2) of the differences in the OS? Are there lockdown tools available? Etc.? Great topic.
Posted by Tim Burke on 04/11/2011 - 11:30 AM
The most obvious physical difference is that iOS provides no means to block (or redirect) the Home button which means the iDevice needs to be mounted in a physical enclosure that shrouds that button. Also, most PC lockdown programs allow for the standard Windows Shell to be replaced by the lockdown program itself which essentially prevents the Windows Desktop from ever showing. The equivalent action in Android is to write a custom Launcher that provides no GUI to the user other than the application intended; however, Apple has no concept of a custom Launcher or Desktop. The Apple desktop is an integral part of the OS and hardware interface, and they don't want anyone changing that.
Posted by Jim Kruper on 04/11/2011 - 03:01 PM
As for existing lockdown tools, Android Market does have several custom launcher applications available but it isn't clear they are intended for the self-service market specifically, or if they are, then they are still a work in progress because they focus on desktop lockdown but are missing the browser lockdown, remote monitoring and device security features. I am certain there are firms in the self-service industry busily developing a solution - certainly we are. An Android version of KioWare is a strategic goal for 2011.
Posted by Jim Kruper on 04/11/2011 - 03:06 PM
Great topic and marketing insight for mobile on self-service. If customers fix a mobile tablet device via mounting mechanism, is it same as conventional Kiosk behavior? What kind of benefits KioWare develop an Android version for this application good for Kiosk markets? if they use bulky Kiosk system or Panel PC.
Posted by Jackel Sheng on 04/12/2011 - 06:54 AM
My focus is software more than hardware, so this is purely my opinion from that limited perspective. Functionally, a mounted mobile tablet properly locked down can behave as a conventional kiosk; however, the current benefit of doing that is mostly of replacing OEM quality components with inexpensive mass market consumer quality devices which primarily makes sense if the kiosk project is short lived or the deployer is prepared to replace devices regularly. Hopefully, OEM quality Android devices will eventually hit the market. But even so, instead of as a fixed kiosk replacement, I believe the bigger appeal of mobile devices is in their mobility and only time will tell all the creative applications the industry will create.
Posted by Jim Kruper on 04/12/2011 - 08:59 AM

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