The iPad Kiosk: Landing at an Airport Near You

Over the next two years, expect to see iPads in airport waiting areas and restaurants for tracking flights, ordering food and surfing the Web. The deployment challenge? Keeping the iPads secure and keeping the supply chain moving.

Fri, October 12, 2012

CIO — Over the past two years, OTG Management, an operator of airport restaurants, has spent $10 million putting some 600 iPads in passenger waiting areas and on dining tables. This is just the beginning, too. The iPad project is taxiing for takeoff with 7,000 iPads to be deployed across four North American airports in the next 18 months.

"We're marrying a world-class dining program with the best of technology," says Albert Lee, CTO of OTG. "It's never been done in this capacity before."

OTG's iPad project is one of the biggest iPad deployments of its kind, where the iPad takes on a kiosk-like, public-facing role. Airline passengers can freely use an iPad to order food, surf the Web, check Facebook and play games. The iPad keeps track of their flights and alerts them to board, as well as changes in flight times and gates.

OTG's pioneering effort could lead to tablets being used in a new way—namely, the iPad kiosk.

"It's not like tablets and kiosks haven't been tried before, but the iPad was the first widely accepted consumer tablet that had a lot of buzz around it," Lee says. "Apple put in a very attractive package that allowed us to put our own custom applications on them."

Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work

Clearly, Apple is helping to usher in iPad-as-kiosk era. Apple recently launched iOS 6, which included "Guided Access" for the iPad. CIOs can use the Guided Access feature to restrict iPad to a single specific app. Guided Access also allows them to disable the Home button. With Guided Access, CIOs can easily turn the iPad into a retailer kiosk or a field worker tool with a specific function.

Strictly speaking, OTG's iPads aren't traditional kiosks with a single purpose. Its iPads merely have limited functionality along with custom-made apps, such as a restaurant menu with order-taking capability. Of course, users can't download apps or adjust settings.

But it's not as easy as it sounds or looks.

As a pioneer in this space, OTG needed to learn quickly about what people wanted from an iPad kiosk. "You've got to get it right the first time," Lee says. "You have a short window to impress and engage them. If they first see it and abandon it, abandonment is usually permanent at that point."

The pilot program called for putting iPads in airport waiting areas so that people might order food from the nearby restaurant, essentially turning a 50-seat restaurant into a 200-seat restaurant. Lee won't give exact figures on the return on investment, but he does say that waiting-area iPads generate revenue where there previously was none and offset the costs of the stand-mounted iPads.

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