Tech Advances Put Digital Signage Sector On Cusp Of Major Change

December 3, 2012 by Dave Haynes

It’s more evident by the week that technology advances and production volumes are conspiring to put digital signage on the cusp of some major changes.

The catalyst for all this change is the smart device industry, which is driving interactive software development, very fast, powerful and, most important, cheap CPUs, and low-cost retail-ready displays.

Multiple manufacturers will be releasing in the new year – starting at CES – ARM A14 and A15 processors for tablets, smartphones and smart TVs. That means very low cost, teeny CPUs that can compete in performance with fair to middling PC CPUs.

You can already get a lot out of low-cost set-top box devices when it comes to digital signage (see Capital Networks), but this new generation will juts amp up the possibilities.

Layer in that some of the panel guys are very likely to start including (if they haven’t already) processors in commercial displays that are as smart or probably somewhat smarter than what’s in consumer-grade smart TVs now shipping. So, in short order, commercial panels become giant WiFi-enabled tablets, with or without touch.

When you go online looking for a small PC-based all-in-one display, you are talking several hundred dollars even for a small shelf-edge unit running a PC CPU under the hood. Some retailers have tried things like iPads as effective merchandising displays, and they’re great. But they’re also $400-$500 a unit, plus this, plus that.

The sub-$100 Tablet

Small tablets are getting crazy-cheap, and while a lot of the product coming over by the shipping container-load is unreliable crap, there is more and more evidence that solid, reliable tablets with 7 inch screens (perfect for retail shelf-edge and merchandising) can be done for sub-$100.

Consider the UbiSlate, made by the UK company Datawind. It has 7-inch tablets, with decent specs and running Android 4, selling for between $64 and $83 USD in India (they are not shipping outside that country). The tech blog ReadWriteWeb got a test unit, and said the performance was not impressive, but it wasn’t terrible either. It was, they said, good enough – kind of on a par with an iPhone 3G.

As the ReadWriteWeb writer aptly states:

In all the competitive battles that have defined the history of the technology revolution, one essential truth almost always determines the outcome: cheap and good enough beats awesome but expensive every time. 

Yes, full-bore x86 PCs with smokin’-fast CPUs will be needed on a healthy percentage of digital signage jobs. And yes some brands will insist on elegant, highly responsive touch experiences in retail that reflect the quality of the brand.

But there are all kinds of brands and retailers that just want to get screens in front of people to stimulate sales and explain features and benefits. If they can get 7-inch screens that can be updated and managed over a network for less than $100, or playback devices that can do simple things like drive menus or sales promos for sub-$100, they’re going to be very interested. At that kind of number, the technology borders on disposable.


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