Interactive kiosks are a relatively new development in the tech world, but they’ve actually been around for a bit longer than you might have realised.
Nowadays they’re just about ubiquitous, appearing more or less everywhere you might care to look. You see them on the streets, in the form of touchscreen cash machines outside the local branch of your bank, and in the shops, in the guise of self-service checkout counters at the supermarket or information terminals in shopping centres.
We use them in just about all walks of life, for a wide variety of sometimes starkly different purposes. But how did they become so popular? How did interactive kiosks get to the place they are today? Let’s look through their history a bit.
1977 – The First Kiosk
The very first self-service kiosk was created by Murray Lappe. Lappe was a pre-med student at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Designed in 1977 (making interactive kiosks almost 40 years old now), the Plato Hotline (called so because it operated on a PLATO computer system) was housed in the student union building of the University. During its first six weeks of operation, more than 30,000 people – not just students, but also teachers and visitors – queued up to use it.
Why was it so popular? Well, what one has to keep in mind is the lack of computers in any commercial sense back in ’77. Many people had never seen a computer at this time, let alone been able to actually use one. The first commonly-available GUI would not come into play until 1983, with the launch of the Apple LISA.
The Plato Hotline was used via a plasma touch screen (developed just over a decade earlier by Donald Blitzer, another U of Illinois student). It allowed users to browse directories, view maps of the campus, check out bus timetables and more, eight years before the first Windows was released. Impressive stuff.
1984 – The First Commercial Kiosk Network
Less than ten years later, the shoe store Florsheim Shoe Company installed the world’s first commercial network of kiosks. Known as the Florsheim Express Shop, it was introduced into all the physical stores and allowed customers to order any shoe from the Florsheim catalogue, in any colour and size, without having to rely on whether that particular outlet had the variety in stock or not. Customers paid through the kiosk, and the transaction was communicated to the head office via dial-up lines.
The commercial revolution had begun.
1991 – The First Internet-Connected Commercial Kiosk
Another first, one of the kiosks displayed at the 1991 Comdex (Computer Dealers’ Exhibition) happened to be the first one to be connected up to the internet. Its main use was to locate children who had gone missing – a noble purpose, if ever there was one.
1997 – The First Kiosk Conference
KioskCom – now called Customer Engagement World – was launched in 1997 to great fanfare. A tradeshow at heart, it was designed to provide information, demonstrations, and the latest news for any organisation looking into the deployment of interactive kiosks, such as the ones currently offered by Evoke Interactive and the like.
It currently takes place in New York City, and is usually held towards the beginning of November.
2007 – The First State-Wide Kiosk Initiative
Imperial Multimedia worked with the state of Virginia to install new touchscreen kiosks into more than 30 different State Parks. These interactive kiosks provide a wealth of information to visitors, such as what to do in case of an emergency, the various points of interest in the area, and even maps which can be printed off.
Now – Everything
These days, you can find just about everything in kiosk form. Creating a pizza to order? There’s a kiosk for that. Wanting to rent one of the latest movies? There’s a kiosk for that. Fancy speeding up the queues at the local supermarket? There’s a kiosk for that.
Where they’re going to go next, we can only guess. All we can predict is that we’ll be seeing even more of them for years to come.