Apple’s use of iPads for merchandising displays big moment for digital signage sector

May 22, 2011 by Dave Haynes

When the original Apple iPad was first announced in early 2010, lots of people in the digital signage sector were intrigued by the idea of these little all-in-one players and screens being parked at the shelf-edge in retail.

After all, the units offered connectivity, thin footprint, gorgeous screen and full interactivity in something that cost just $500. Nothing offered as an all-in-one setup for digital signage in retail came close in terms of capability and price.

But we’ve yet to see iPads or other tablets used much in retail as displays – though their application as a sales associate’s portable tool is certainly growing in retail.

That may all start to change with news and images today of Apple’s makeover of its stores, which are using iPads as interactive product education tools, associated directly with the products on the merchandising/demo tables. The iPads are placed on some sort of clear acrylic, angled base and, from what I had quickly read, have a protective cover over the screen.

What Apple does have is a big influence on design and application, so I see this as a pretty big moment for digital signage in retail. Lots of people have talked endlessly about putting digital screens right at the shelf-edge. But when the biggest brand in the world does it, that gets attention, and fully endorses the concept.

I am not at all wild about the actual implementation because of the cords that you’d think could have easily been hidden, but maybe there is some rationale there that I am missing. But the overall concept is entirely sound – provide an interactive tool right at the product to deliver detail far more extensive than what’s possible on a sheet of paper. In a busy Apple store, where it might take a while to free up a sales associate, this keeps browsing shoppers occupied and increasingly informed – keeping them in store and probably accelerating the buying decision.

Cords aside, I like.

The only thing, by the way, that I have seen in the field that is a little bit like this are MicroSigns, a little Montreal company that has far smaller screens, with interactive features, installed by handsets in wireless retailers. The screens are replacing the little sheets of paper – fact tags – that are typically used to provide basic product features.

(Disclaimer: MicroSigns is a client, but I’d mention this anyway).

I am not convinced iPads will be the tablet of choice used by retails because the cost is still a bit high when compared to all these other tablets that will coming on the market, and because developing to an Android device will be far easier than working under Apple’s software restrictions.

But this news will likely spur a lot of new activity and questions around getting 7 and 10 inch tablets into retail, as effective tools to relay product features and attributes.

Image from Macstories


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