What You Need to Know When Building Kiosk Software

Cody and Andrew discuss the unique considerations you should keep in mind as you work on kiosk projects. While a lot of the software technology can be similar to building websites and mobile apps, the considerations for how it meets your business goals and serves as a public device are completely different.

We are seeing kiosks being implemented even more in the retail space. Kiosks can reduce cashier hours, labor cost, or minimize human errors. Of late, because of Covid, we are seeing an uptick in any kind of self-service opportunities because they reduce human interaction, therefore reducing opportunities for the spread of the virus. As a consumer, you may have noticed the increased footprint of kiosk solutions in your favorite restaurants and shops. This is very much in line with the overall trend of business automation. In addition, many businesses are implementing an express lane with kiosks. This could be with ordering food at your favorite fast food chain or even quickly getting through checkout at your grocery store. It’s convenient for consumers and it increases the speed with which the company can accomplish transactions thereby moving more product. In addition to payment kiosks, there are also endless isle kiosks which serve to educate consumers, with the idea being that you can have endless inventory.

We are seeing similar applications for both mobile apps and self-service kiosks, but there are some different things to keep in mind both for your business goals and as you’re planning projects for each of these form factors. Mobile phone requires you to put it in the app store, maintain the code and make updates, worry about touch, take into account standard practices for mobile apps. Whereas with a kiosk the considerations that you want to keep in mind are that they are almost always and they have different hardware integrations. If you have a card reader, a receipt printer, or maybe even other pieces of hardware within the kiosk, then all the pieces need to be able to work together. It’s important to research your hardware and software to make sure that what you want to build is feasible with the tools you’ve chosen. If you accept cash, then taking the time to understand your cash flow so you can pick the dispenser that works for the traffic you have. On the other hand, there’s a big benefit to the hardware question because once you’ve landed on the right pieces to go into your enclosure, all of these pieces are known. With mobile app development, you don’t know what model phone the user has, what size the screen is, how old or new it is, how much memory and so forth. For mobile apps, you have to ensure that your app is able to work on a variety of devices. With a kiosk app, once you’ve settled on the hardware, you only have to program for that set of tools.

Another business consideration is whether or not you want the presence of a kiosk for marketing purposes. You can have a sleek and minimal design or you can go with something much larger and flashier. You can choose to use various marketing screens to engage with your customers. Kiosks are also great at advertising deals and special add ons in the midst of an order or customer interaction. On the other hand, it’s much harder to get your customers to download an app in your lobby to then perform a service or transaction.

There is a lot to keep in mind as you begin planning your next kiosk project, but don’t worry! We can walk you through all of it. A great place to get started is our free PDF that walks you through thoroughly developing your idea and provides a ton of free resources! 

 

Episode Transcript

Alexandra:

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday. My name is Alexandra, and today you’re going to be joined by Andrew and Cody, as they talk about kiosk applications. We frequently build on this type of hardware, and there’s definitely some different considerations to keep in mind as opposed to building a mobile app or even a website. So let’s hear what they have to say regarding past projects that we’ve done and things that you should keep in mind if you’re looking to build custom software for a kiosk.

Cody:

So Andrew, in the world of kiosks and kiosk software, there’s a lot of trends right now going toward implementing them in everything from retail positions to even automating other aspects of business. What do you see as certain opportunities that are coming forth for our potential clients?

Andrew:

Sure, so we always see a lot of opportunity in retail space, typically anything that’s going to reduce cashier window hours or labor costs, things that are going to help minimize human error. If you’re dealing with a lot of cash, maybe you’re accepting cash or dispensing change. That’s a really attractive space for kiosks because again, the machines don’t make mistakes like people do. Of late though, because of COVID and the pandemic we’ve seen a real uptick in interest in any self-service solution that will reduce human interaction. Be it taking orders at restaurants or taking payments to give to someone incarcerated in jail. I mean, it really runs the gamut, but anything where there’s a human interaction there, and order taking, kiosks are a really good fit for that. And we’ve seen a lot of interest in that, particularly late in a cashless-type solution.

Cody:

Yeah, definitely. From my experience of just a consumer of various things, even in my favorite restaurants and that would be both fast food to sit down, there’s kiosks across the board that are just pushing the trend of general business automation. And so far that hasn’t quite hit the production area of those businesses but I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow these kiosks in the future end up mostly automating even the kitchen.

Andrew:

Yeah, there’s a lot of appeal to having an express lane too. Think about it. If you go into McDonald’s and you either have to wait in line to order something from a cashier, or you can just walk up to the kiosk and get through faster, the express lane is always a really, really attractive option. There’s also another thing referred to as endless aisle kiosks. And those are just typically kiosks that educate consumers on products, the idea being that they can have endless inventory in them, you can go to one place, find all the information about the products, maybe order them there, maybe you don’t, but you don’t necessarily have to go track down someone on staff to ask them, what does this particular thing do?

Cody:

Yeah. And that’s even before we touch on the aspect of COVID-19 showing up. The idea of chaos is that it reduces the amount of customer to customer service agent touch period, so to speak. And that allows for greater safety, less business liability, and it’s overall just a trend to make people feel safe as of right now. And I foresee that continuing for at least the next year most likely and may set a permanent trend for all we know.

Andrew:

A lot of people too just prefer to not interact with a human being. If they have an option to skip that, maybe you had a bad day, maybe just don’t want to talk to anybody. It’s attractive to just be able to go up to a machine, enter your order. It’s a very similar concept to using your phone to place an order. But of course, with a kiosk, you can attach a lot more devices, you’ve got an enclosure, things like that. So it works much better for self-service when you’re dealing with more than just entering credit card numbers. Cody, what are some different considerations that customers have to make when they’re considering a self-service kiosk versus a mobile app and why would you maybe choose one over the other?

Cody:

For sure. Ultimately, it’s going to be your business goals. When it comes to a mobile phone app, obviously that allows people who are not at your establishment to submit orders, but let’s say in the situation where you have someone come in and they don’t want to talk to a person, or you just want to have more business automation during the order process, a kiosk comes in really handy. The considerations between the two, basically are that mobile phone apps, obviously you have to deal with all the considerations of mobile phones. So that means you have to have it in the app store, you have to worry about touch. You have to worry about basically all those different various considerations that go into developing those apps. Whereas with a kiosk, the big and probably most different issue you have to worry about is the fact that they’re often always on.

Cody:

And they often have pretty tight hardware integrations like with payment processors, things of that sort. If you have a card reader, you have a receipt printer, all that stuff has to work together. So being able to do that is going to be a considerable part of the actual budget of integrating an actual kiosk app into a hardware enclosure. Beyond that, a lot of the time actually, mobile apps and kiosks often run on similar software. A lot of kiosks and mobile apps secretly are just websites in the actual background nowadays. So when it comes to an actual software implementation, there’s a bit of a high redundancy in the actual visual experience of it all. But the big difference is going to be that hardware. That’s where it’s really going to come down to.

Andrew:

Yeah, it’s also a very controlled environment. With mobile, you don’t necessarily know what phone they’re going to be using, what size it is, if it’s going to be five years old, what the memory is like. With the kiosk, it’s your hardware. So everything about it is a very controlled environment. Not to say that kiosks are better than mobile, they’re just two very different things.

Cody:

Yeah.

Andrew:

With kiosks, you’ve got things like you can add a wide variety of devices. You can’t accept cash from a mobile phone, but you can take a credit card from a mobile phone, you can snap a photo from a mobile phone. Kiosks also just have a presence about them too that grabs people’s attention. So if I walk into a lobby, it might be difficult to get you to download my mobile phone app when you walk into the lobby, but if there’s a machine standing right here and my choice is between: use this machine or get in this line, that’s not as hard of a sell. People will even use bigger kiosks than necessary or put signage on top of kiosks or double screens and things like that, just because it can have a pretty big presence about it to capture people’s attention.

Cody:

Yeah, the marketing aspect of a kiosk is actually a big part of it. Ultimately, you have this screen real estate that’s bright and flashy. And when customers walk into an establishment, whether or not they’re going to be ordering from the regular line or a kiosk, a lot of the time, these kiosks are advertising special deals and things before you’ve even touched them. It’s a big aspect is that you basically get free advertisement real estate for your deals.

Andrew:

Cody, what are some common pitfalls you see when developing for kiosks?

Cody:

Well, I think the number one thing is going to be the hardware integration and all the considerations that go into that. Ultimately, you’re going to have all these peripheral devices, from receipt printers to card readers, to even cash acceptors, to whatever you can fit around a computer that can allow someone to interface with it. And ultimately, you need to be able to choose the software solution as well as the hardware for those solutions that will allow you to have the greatest flexibility and ease of software development. That’s probably one of the larger issues is that some of the situations we’ve come up, we have to develop on an old kiosk hardware solution that’s, let’s say 10 years old or so, and ultimately, in the world of technology, a 10 year difference just to be in this specific event is significant in terms of integrating new software with the old stuff.

Cody:

So that’s a big consideration. Using legacy hardware does make things a little more difficult. The other part is just choosing the wrong hardware. It’s entirely possible that you just have this idea of how something looks and you want it integrated, and then you go and look at the specifications or obviously hand that to an engineer to look at it and it’s a nightmare. So there’s a lot of research that needs to be done with hardware integrations and general software integrations. That’s probably the biggest issue with kiosks. What do you think, Andrew?

Andrew:

Well, even just form factor too. So does it make sense for you to use a tablet, let’s say an Android tablet or something like that, or does it make sense to have a full, free standing kiosk? Well, in some cases, the big goal is to be able to keep the cost of this thing super low. And so, using a lot of tablets, a lot of inexpensive devices make sense. In other cases, you really want to grab people’s attention and having a big form factor makes sense, or maybe you’re going to take cash payments. Well, it’s going to be much more difficult to do that on a tablet, if not impossible. Whereas if you’ve got a big enclosure, you can put all these devices in it. We even advise people to think about things like traffic and usage. So if you’re going to be accepting cash and dispensing change, what are your cash flow needs? Because there’s devices that run a wide gamut. Some can hold lots of money and are very expensive, some can just accept all denominations but dispense ones and fives. So we help you look through all those things.

Andrew:

Another problem I’ve seen too, is people will come in and they’ll have a very specific device in mind that they want to use. They’ll say, “I want to build this whole kiosk thing and I want it to work on an iPad.” Like, “Okay, well, why?”‘ And the reason we ask that is because the iPads in particular do not have a lot of options for integrating with other outside devices. And so, nothing wrong with an iPad, it just may not be well suited for a kiosk. So those are the kinds of benefits you get with working with an experienced kiosk development firm like ours is we can help you identify what the pitfalls and the risks are, both on the software side dealing with all sorts of things. From internet connectivity to payments and whether it should be web or native, to over on the physical side with what are the considerations for form factor and things like that too. So with kiosks, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong and some very expensive mistakes that you can make.

Cody:

Yeah, definitely. And I think on top of that, it’s important to mention that all the pitfalls specific to kiosks are all additive to the possible pitfalls of general software development too. So it’s very important to do your homework on that hardware because ultimately, you’ve got effectively two faces of the same coin that could both balloon and get really expensive.

Andrew:

Another aspect of kiosks too or another risk is these are public facing devices. When I am writing a mobile app for your phone, I’m not really worried about what’s going to happen when the next person uses it, the next person in line uses it because it’s your device, you’re the one that interacts with it. But with the kiosk, you could be completely in the middle of a transaction, collected all sorts of information about someone and then for whatever reason, they get distracted, they don’t have enough money to make the payment and they turn around and walk away. And you have to think about: what’s the interaction of the next person going to be? How do you avoid confusing them? How do you avoid giving away any sensitive information? How do you deal with PCI compliance? There’s just a lot of complexity that comes into dealing with a shared device like that. And also, just a lot of security concerns too.

Cody:

Yeah, and touching on the public facing aspect of that too. Ultimately, if a kiosk malfunctions in your business because of some poor software development practice or just a random bug, there’s nothing more disheartening than going to a big business and seeing a kiosk or a menu because they’re often digital nowadays too, and seeing a Windows blue screen sitting there instead of what it should normally be. So it can really be off-putting if the software is not developed correctly and it’s important to do lots of testing and research and make sure things go right.

Andrew:

With kiosks to alerting and visibility can be more important also, because if I’ve, let’s say got a kiosk that its primary function is to sell tickets to something. Well, if the ticket printer stops functioning, that’s a pretty big deal because I can still take payments for tickets, but if I’m not dispensing tickets and I have a line of people waiting in line to get these tickets, it’s a real problem. So there’s just a whole lot of things to consider, a lot more risks to consider when you’re dealing with kiosks. Not that kiosks are risky, there’s just more complexity. And I’ve seen people who are software developers that will then try to take that tool set or that experience of, okay, I know how to develop software so I can develop a kiosk because we’re going to develop it for web in both cases, let’s say. Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the experience to identify what all the pitfalls of dealing with a public facing device like that are. And so, experience is really valuable when it comes to self-service kiosk projects.

Cody:

So Andrew, in the world that is unfortunately, now COVID-19 kiosks are starting to play a major role in people’s general interface with businesses around the world. What do you see are some of the considerations, drawbacks, benefits that involve kiosks and COVID-19 interacting together as a unit?

Andrew:

Well, the big thing that kiosks have going for them in consideration of COVID is that kiosks are self-service. That’s why I refer to them as self-service kiosks. So a common application we’ve seen is temperature scanning kiosks, which is a very simple application, but eliminates the need for you to put a temperature gun to someone’s head to measure it, so that’s great. Another really big one we’ve seen is in just the area of retail. Anything that’s going to reduce interaction between your employees and customers or between employees with each other, that’s going to help provide more safety, more social distancing, and just help reduce human interaction and help reduce the spread of the virus. So really anything where you can take an order from someone or allow people to work more autonomously, that’s really a benefit of self-service.

Alexandra:

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday. We hope you enjoyed this conversation around building custom software for kiosks. If you have an application that you need built for a kiosk, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can reach us at bixly.com and even get a free consultation on your app. Until next time, this has been a Bixly Tech Tuesday.