Touchscreen Guidance For A (Post) Confinement World – Part Two

Guest Post: Geoffrey Bessin, Intuiface

Geoff Bessin

In Part One of this series, we took a look at the steps creative agencies and systems integrators need to take to ensure the longevity and appeal of touch-first digital deployments to physical spaces. Health concerns will not disappear with the end of confinement; if anything, these concerns will be integrated into public life, influencing both social and technological interaction. Companies must be sensitive to this new normal and address them proactively.

But are touch gestures the only approach to digital interaction?

Part Two: Get ready to go beyond touch

Hopefully, Part One convinced you there will always be a place for touch. Good. Now let’s talk about moving away from touch…… Seriously though, never have diverse audiences been more primed to accept touch alternatives. The goal is not to be anti-touch, it’s to be open about other interactive possibilities. At a minimum, now is the time to consider creating dual-mode deployments offering touch as one but not the only interactive option.

Let’s start with a look at these interactive alternatives.

Adopt Touch Alternatives for Interactivity

Ever go down a Google black hole, following related interests until you come to a topic about which you’re wholly unfamiliar? And just a bit of research unveils there is a world of experts and investment in the orbit of this new topic? So much so that you can’t believe you didn’t hear about this seeming niche before?

That’s the world of touch alternatives. Each of you reading this article have different backgrounds and levels of exposure, but beyond a minority, it’s a safe bet you are only glancingly familiar with at least some touch alternatives and how to incorporate them in your digital content. The good news is it’s easier than you think.

Here’s a quick look at the most common and useful alternatives to touch:

Voice activation: From Alexa and Siri for tablets to native platform services on Windows, and offerings by a host of third-party plug-and-play API alternatives – there is no shortage of mechanisms that can capture verbal commands and convert them into action. It’s a genuinely hands-free approach that is also quite useful for handling accessibility requirements.

RFID/NFC: Different technologies with the same fundamental goal: to associate unique IDs with unique objects and broadcast those IDs to any receivers brought into the vicinity. A perfect use case: classic lift-and-learn scenarios found in retail. When Item A is lifted – i.e., when a particular tagged object is lifted off the receiver – then play a video.

Sensors and the Internet of Things: Hardware at the edge, built to monitor some aspects of the environment. When motion is detected, run an attract loop. When a button is pressed, highlight the selected option. When the temperature rises, promote a cold drink. Sensors and connected objects (among the Internet of Things) enable you to react to the world in real-time and do so in a way that is meaningful to your audience.

Computer Vision: Using cameras to anonymously identify age range, gender, emotion, head pose, dwell time, and more of the person or people in front of a screen. Create content based on particular demographics or react to specific gestures or emotional states. Bonus: with computer vision, you not only personalize the experience, you also enrich the data set you’re collecting for analytics. (You’re doing analytics, right?)

Keep in mind, none of these modalities are mutually exclusive, either from each other or with touch. They can easily be complementary, with the minimal goal of giving your users alternative modes of use.

Incorporate personal mobile devices

A crucial approach to consider is enabling your audience to use their mobile phone to interact with your digital content. Deployments remain interactive, but in a no-touch way that may not only comfort your users but encourage their use by lowering health-sensitive caution.

Remember QR codes? Lurking around the edge but never grabbing headlines, QR codes are going to make a comeback explicitly because they are the ideal glue connecting a mobile phone or tablet to digital content in physical places. (Another reason for their rise is that cameras on today’s latest mobile devices can automatically detect and process QR codes without having first to be manually configured by the user. The barrier to adoption is much lower.)

There are two primary scenarios involving personal mobile devices and QR codes:

1.  Content delivery from the public display to mobile devices: QR codes were conceived for this classic use case. QR codes embed a URL; that is their function. Scanning a QR code causes a phone or tablet to open the indicated webpage. Empower your audience to select the information they care about and take it with them. Limit the amount of interaction at the screen and let your users interact more deeply on their own time. A perfect way to get reuse out of existing web content.
2.  Remotely control digital content: Much more of a novel concept but achievable using any platform supporting web triggers. Here, the QR code opens a webpage constructed to control content visible on the screen. Permit content browsing, scene navigation, media engagement, and more using the phone or tablet as a remote control. It could be as simple as a few buttons linked to particular onscreen actions, or it could be as complex as your HTML5 heart desires. The content is on the larger screen, and your users are comfortably handling their personal devices for all interactions.

A niche but complementary use case for incorporating personal devices is contactless payment. The typical approach is use of mobile phones to broadcast credit/debit card information to a payment terminal. No physical interaction occurs, and all security protocols are enforced. The result is a touch-free purchase made with the wave of a phone. Concerned that not every shopper is comfortable with contactless payment? Revisit the use of QR codes to open a shopping cart on the consumer’s phone. That’s more work for the shopper but all from the safety of his/her device.

Imagine a digital deployment telling shoppers, visitors, employees that they can use their own phone to manipulate onscreen content. Couple that with GDPR and related security and privacy communication to ensure the integrity of interaction. Would audience members concerned with unknown levels of cleanliness and safety be intrigued? Absolutely.

Increase content personalization

We all recognize the utility of personalized digital content. Increased personalization leads to increased relevance and, thus, a greater incentive to participate. The content is for me alone, making it much more rewarding. From a business perspective, personalization makes content sticky, leading to more individual sessions, longer session time (aka dwell time), and more conversions.

There is another advantage to personalization, often overlooked. It’s a shortcut to the call to action, to the objective of the digital content.

The more personalized the content, the more quickly an individual can drive digital content to the intended finish line. To simplify, think of this in terms of the number of steps. Consider two kiosks, one using computer vision to identify gender and age range, another that is ignorant of its user. If properly constructed, which deployment will more quickly drive users to the most relevant content?

Notice, by the way, that “personalization” doesn’t necessarily have to mean unique for each individual. Age range and gender don’t tell me who the person is, but I still know a lot about who they are. And touch alternatives like RFID and speech recognition enable users to identify their preferences at the screen.

Content personalization is, of course, critical for touch-first deployments as well, but the proposal here is that the bar doesn’t have to be high. Many touch-alternative approaches still enable potentially high levels of customization that can minimize perceived health-risk activity while still leading to meaningful interaction.

Conclusion

We’re in the heart of an era-defining moment, one characterized by self-confinement and social distancing. These circumstances will have far-reaching effects on all types of human-human and human-machine interactions in physical spaces. The question is not if, but to what degree. Digital signage and other digital content deployments are going to be an early victim, or survivor, of these new demands.

The good news is there are a host of options for accommodating the anticipated new normal, and none of these approaches need to be exclusive. Touch-first content will evolve into touch-optional content. Touch alternatives will become natural complements and will, inevitably, lead to richer and more personalized experiences accessible through the medium of preference for each user. Give your audience a choice, and they will be more likely to engage.

Meanwhile, innovation continues. For example, some forward-thinking hardware providers are producing screens incorporating anti-microbial films. (Just be sure to do your homework to ensure they’re well-tested and validated.) Others are prepackaging touch-alternatives in anticipation of multi-mode use, not to mention providing low-cost sanitizer stations. The key is to stay abreast of what’s happening with technology and then applying creativity and sensitivity to make it real.

Adaptation is the key to survival, across species as well as across businesses and technologies. Tackle adaptation with passion and success can be within your reach.

About The Guest Writer

Geoff Bessin is Chief Evangelist at Intuiface, which means he thinks about the intersection of digital interactivity with signage and presentations.  Twitter – @geoffbessin