As they say, there is nothing permanent in the world except change. And nowhere is change more prevalent than in the Big Apple. Right now, the city is starting a rollout of touchscreen information kiosks that are set to take the place of payphone booths within the city. While payphones are not exactly going extinct — Hurricane Sandy showed us that they are still vital parts of a city’s infrastructure — this reflects a view that payphones are largely outdated, or at the very least, they commonly see little use.
There are only a handful of these electronic kiosks launched at the moment, but by the time the program has been fully rolled out, there should be 250 of these touchscreen booths ready to serve the citizens of New York City. The booths are free to use, and the service is supported by funds generated through advertising. Plus, NYC gets a cut from all that ad revenue as well.
These kiosks will feature information about the surrounding neighborhood, including nearby establishments for food, drinks, and events. In addition, there are plans to integrate more services within the kiosks in the future, including Skype and other communications apps. It’s pretty clear that VoIP service would be one of the primary applications one would think of when information kiosks such as these are placed beside payphones.
Some of you might ask, “But what about all the people and all the hands swiping and touching that screen?” Fret not, guys; the booths are waterproof so that they can be hosed down periodically for cleaning.
We know that it’s still pretty early in the lifespan of the program, which is why the user interface of the information kiosks could still use a considerable amount of improvement. The way the information is presented really isn’t all that organized just yet. See, right now, the location app within the kiosk gets its data from different sources (other apps such as Foursquare and CityMaps), yet the information isn’t aggregated optimally. As a result, the UI and user experience suffers from the lack of consistency.
That said, it might show the inherent problem with such kiosks today: there’s already an app for that, most likely. Most people have smartphones, so why would they need to waltz into a booth and look for information there? What’s more, people might be more inclined to seek information through more familiar methods via apps on their own phones. Of course, those who don’t have smartphones or who lack access to data networks will certainly appreciate these kiosks. The thing is, the people behind them might want to consider evolving the kiosks further to feature content more efficiently. The plan for Wi-Fi hotspots accompanying these booths is a great example of how the kiosks can become relevant, but this is still in the early pilot stage and such functionality is yet to come.
It’s still too early to dismiss these information kiosks as just another part of the urban sprawl, soon to be taken over by dust and grime and graffiti. The concept has much potential, which we’ll see more of as the city adds functions to what seems to be a glorified map at this point. They should be more interesting once the information gets better organized and more features become available to the public.
Would you have a use for such kiosks, or are you happy enough with the information that your own smartphone provides? Do you think there’s a place for this kind of service in the 21st century? What would improve its effectiveness? Please comment and share your thoughts!