City 24 7 Touchscreens Start Rolling Out In NYC

November 20, 2012 by Dave Haynes

Photos from Cisco IBSG

The first of some 250 touchscreens in New York have started replacing old payphones on the nicer sidewalks of the city. The first two are running in Union Square, and more are coming in a trial program that has the approval of the city.

The screens are ad-supported and the city gets a piece of the revenue action. A LOT of them will need to get in place before they get the kind of coverage that will get real buys and not discretionary, “Oh what the hell, let’s run a test” dollars.

The project is getting knocked out by a startup called City 24X7, but there is a healthy pile of partners like Cisco, Time Warner, Google and LG.

One of my favorite tech blogs, The Verge, sent somebody around to have a look and pass on impressions:

Electronic information kiosks aren’t new, but the rise of small, self-contained apps seems like it could make them more useful than ever. Unfortunately, this one suffers from an overabundance of disorganized content.

The app you’ll see pulls data from CityMaps, Foursquare, Zagat, and other sources, but there’s little attempt to tie it all together — instead, you’ll get a jumbled collection of restaurants, bars, events, public safety information, and links to other apps.

The data is quite useful, but the piecemeal layout and lack of a consistent design language makes it unintuitive. I counted at least three different mapping systems, for example, but none of them seemed to offer transit or driving directions, an obvious feature for tourists. Likewise, while most sections let you look up a mentioned location on Google Maps, not all do.

The system itself has potential, but it’s also far from perfect. The screen is big and fairly bright, with on-screen contrast and accessibility buttons. Generally, the top half displays app content, and the bottom half is dedicated to advertisements or service advisories; if you’re in a wheelchair, you can opt to swap the two for easier viewing. The screen will instantly display your touches with a translucent circle, which turns out to be vital feedback, since the app is painfully laggy.

The program is still young, and some of the more interesting features are yet to come. A camera will be installed later, allowing the kiosk to detect people with seeing eye dogs or canes and switch to a voice-based mode. While it wasn’t online today, there’s also a Wi-Fi hotspot, and we heard previously that Skype and email will eventually be supported, making the kiosk surprisingly full-featured.

For now, there’s plenty of information, and it’ll likely be useful to tourists or people who want to get a quick look at a map. We just wish more effort had been put into laying that information out to the best effect.

I’m in Toronto, so I’ve obviously not had a look myself. The screens do look busy, but then so do the screens on smart devices – the user experience you could argue this emulates.

This is a big and expensive project in one of the world’s biggest media markets, so a lot of eyes will be focused on how this does and whether media buying catches on.


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