Microsoft Kiosk Technology
There are a variety of new retail business scenarios that will drive demand for more interactive kiosks. For instance, retailers need to display rich information about products they carry in the store, and kiosks allow the consumer to see more detailed information, conduct product comparison, and determine the best fit for their needs. Product information could include rich graphics and video to illustrate these features.
Retailers can also offer products through a kiosk that may not be carried in physical inventory - for example, a store may carry a line of shirts, but not all sizes – and enabling the store to conclude a transaction on inventory that is not in stock could significantly increase sales. It is impossible today for most retailers to hire and train technical product specialists on every product, but kiosks using VOIP can provide a way for consumers to talk to experts about the products they wish to buy. Kiosks can also provide a new mechanism for retailers to explore new advertising scenarios, whether the kiosk is offline or online. A final example is clearly the benefit of the kiosk at the Point of Service (POS), where it can promote and cross-sell products as well as handling transactions and returns.
Microsoft™ has a number of software technologies coming in the near future that will provide a dynamic platform for developing a vast range of kiosk scenarios, particularly for the retail industry, where use of kiosks is already incredibly strong and is set to grow. The new operating system, Windows Vista, due out in early December 2006, will introduce a new programming model called WinFX, which will provide a range of new capabilities, just some of which we will be looking at below, and a new set of development tools focused on the graphical designer and developer called Microsoft™ Expressions.
Windows Presentation Foundation, the core graphics framework in Vista, will enable both high-definition & regular video to be hosted on a form and manipulated from code. A number of effects will be possible, such as inverting, dynamically sizing and rotating the video. A kiosk could have three videos playing on the screen at one time, while a user can bring a particular video to the front as others remain in the background, and can switch between videos with a simple click. This means that product videos can now be easily incorporated into kiosk applications to display product information such as in the example shown, which is a snapshot of an early kiosk deployment for The Northface in the United States.
It's usual for rich applications to be designed for a specific resolution. When a rich application needs to run on multiple resolutions, or when a resolution is required that was not anticipated in the original design, this can cause difficulties. WPF applications are designed to ‘grow and shrink’ dynamically, so that applications can be written with one codebase that can be deployed across a variety of kiosks with differing screen resolutions. Additionally, a developer can post applications to a Web server, and clients that subscribe to this server can now be automatically updated, making the management and deployment of these applications much easier. In this way, fully centralised development and management of rich kiosk applications is now possible.
Windows Workflow Foundation offers a workflow engine to enable rich kiosk solutions. For example, a user may have a question when using a kiosk, and require assistance. From the kiosk, the user could click a button called ‘Request Assistance,’ and a workflow procedure would initiate actions to call a retail floor employee to the kiosk. If the employee did not respond within a specific timeframe, the workflow could escalate to a manager, who could take action to dispatch another employee.
To aid in the creation of such rich applications in an highly productive development cycle, Microsoft is bringing to market Microsoft Expressions, which is divided into three products focused on Web Experience, Rich Interactive Experience, and Graphical Designer capabilities. These products, integrated cleanly into Visual Studio, provide a great capability to build rich, sophisticated applications with a highly interactive toolset built implementing industry standards.
The next-generation kiosk will require a next-generation set of tools in order to offer new, exciting business scenarios in retail that simply were not possible before. The Windows Vista platform will provide a new core technology platform, enabling rich applications to be quickly developed and easily deployed across a variety of kiosk hardware. It will also come with a set of new tools, such as Visual Studio and Expression, which share the same underlying architecture, enabling the kiosk developer to share projects across roles more easily.
Through these new platforms and tools, new, simple and cost-effective kiosk solutions are enabled through the rich graphics, video, workflow, reporting, and connectivity capabilities that form a part of the new Windows Vista platform - a great illustration of Microsoft's cimmitment to providing familiar and easy-to-use solutions through their people-ready vision.