Kiosk deployers have a number of options when it comes to a tablet and operating system on which to base their project. Which is the best choice?
Choosing a tablet kiosk operating system
Deployers of tablet-based kiosks have several choices when it comes to the device and operating system they can use. Apple’s iPad and Windows’ Surface tablets are major players in the market, with dozens of low-cost Android models available as well.
The amount of options creates a challenge when choosing the tablet that will serve as the heart of a kiosk project. Which one is best?
As with many things in business, the answer depends on what one hopes to accomplish. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses that makes it suitable (or not) for specific applications.
iPad & iOS
Apple products have a well-deserved reputation for quality and performance, and the iPad tablet and iOS operating system are no different.
Many people are already familiar with the interface and stability of iOS thanks to the iPhone, which makes an iPad the tablet of choice where ease-of-use is a requirement.
iPads can be purchased pre-loaded with software and already enrolled in the mobile device management solution of your choice directly from Apple, simplifying deployment. New generations of iPads generally follow a similar physical form factor, making the sourcing of replacement devices easier.
Since kiosk software is distributed through the App Store, it is available as a perpetual license per device and is often less expensive than Windows and Android applications that come with recurring support fees or subscription licensing. In addition, software on the App Store has been reviewed by Apple to meet their guidelines for usability, privacy, and security.
But while most consumers are likely to be familiar with the iPad, there are factors that may not make it suitable for every application.
Quality comes at a price, and for a deployer on a budget an iPad may not be the best option. Still, Apple has been gaining in this area with their entry-level 9.7-inch model available for as low as $329.
Administrators can manage a specific subset of tablet functions remotely through an MDM, which is both an upside in terms of fewer possible security holes and a downside in terms of limited flexibility.
iPads only include an audio jack and a single Lightning port, so deployers sometimes need to be a bit more creative when it comes to adding peripherals. Apple offers a powered USB camera adapter, which can be used for USB peripherals. Bluetooth options are also available. But since drivers can’t be installed directly, the use of many peripherals requires that the kiosk app incorporate an iOS-specific SDK from the peripheral manufacturer.
Options for screen size are limited as well, with iPad displays currently maxing out at 12.9-inches. Although deployers can connect an external monitor for large screen experiences, all touch interaction must occur on the iPad itself, which eliminates certain use cases.
Love it or hate it, most people with even a bit of computer experience are familiar with the Windows operating system. Windows tablets offer most of the capabilities of a desktop PC with a touchscreen interface.
There are plenty of kiosk applications for Windows tablets on the market, so deployers can often find an off-the-shelf product that can be adapted to meet their needs. Some Windows tablets include a USB port, making them well-suited for applications that require a peripheral such as a card reader or ticket printer. Many peripheral manufacturers offer Windows drivers, so integration can be accomplished with a minimum of effort.
And with Windows the dominant player in the enterprise software market, Windows tablets integrate well with point-of-sale systems, inventory management programs and a host of other applications.
Windows traditionally has built-in remote management solutions, including the ability to directly remote into the device. This functionality is not possible with iOS, and Android devices require additional software to accomplish the task. On the down side, this can be a security hole if not properly managed.
The iOS and Android operating systems were built from the ground up for touch capability, while Windows is a relative latecomer. Rather than building an operating system specifically designed for touch, the Windows OS tries to incorporate the best of both the desktop and tablet experience. As such, the Windows touch experience occasionally falls short.
Windows tablets can be pricey as well. Surface Pro tablets and Elo all-in-ones, which are the most popular options for kiosk use, are generally more expensive than comparable iPads.
There are literally dozens of low-cost Android tablets on the market, so these can be a good option for those on a budget. In many cases, though, the adage “you get what you pay for” still holds true.
While kiosks based on Android tablets can be deployed at a lower cost than those using iPads or Windows tablets, many of these tablets simply aren’t built to withstand the rigors of commercial use. In addition, many Android tablets lack the processing capability to handle resource-intensive tasks.
Surface Pros and iPads include support for wired Internet connections through Ethernet dongles, but most consumer-grade Android devices lack driver support and thus are incompatible with this type of dongle. Commercial Android tablets designed specifically for kiosk use, such as those offered by CDS or Elo, often have native RJ-45 Ethernet ports that allow for wired Internet. Of course, those features come with a price that puts them in the same arena as iPads and Windows tablets.
And if kiosks are going to be distributed to multiple locations, they will likely require the installation of a mobile device management system and/or subscription kiosk management solution such as EloView.
The Android operating system allows for extensive customization, allowing the deployer to create an experience unique to their brand. Creating and managing that customization, though, may require developers and/or an experienced IT staff.
The bottom line
If a deployer is driven solely by price, an Android device might be the best option. Still, any savings realized could be offset by IT costs, and the system often isn’t as stable as iOS or Windows.
For third-party integration and traditional ways to manage the deployment, then Windows may be the best choice. On the other hand, tablet choices are limited and pricey, and the user interface has its detractors.
And if good build quality, a mature and stable operating system and the high level of support that exists for apps running on the iOS platform is important for the deployment, then an iPad is the way to go.
Whether it be iOS, Windows or Android, the choice of tablet and operating system will likely be driven by a combination of considerations. To ensure the maximum benefit of a tablet kiosk deployment, it’s important to work with a partner who has the knowledge and experience to help make the best choice.