Of Touch Screen Kiosks and Mobile Tablets

My family and I recently took a trip to visit friends who live on Lopez Island, north of Seattle. We also spent a couple of nights in Seattle at the Sheraton downtown. There I got my first hands-on look at Microsoft's Surface

There were three Surface tables in the lobby of the hotel. Most of the time they were in use; people were clearly intrigued by the technology and experience. While the experience is novel and "cool," the content is thin at the moment, and mostly a promotion for Sheraton. The local search capabilities are limited. (It made me wonder if the listings were ad placements.) But that's not the point; the content will improve over time. 

I've always been intrigued by the notion of Internet kiosks distributed throughout town, which can offer some version of Internet access. Surface provides a compelling model for that potential experience. The question is: Where would such Kiosks be placed? Public transportation stops (e.g., subway stations in New York) is a logical choice. Then there are Starbucks of course. I also suggested to one Internet company in the past that ATM machines be used, although that would create longer wait times.

In 2006 UK directory publisher Yell, as part of an ad campaign, offered touch screen, local search kiosks in 20 locations in the UK. Yahoo before that set up a few interactive kiosks in New York and San Francisco to promote its then novel interactive mapping site. 

Surface

The fundamental reason kiosks are interesting to me is because they offer the potential for a richer Internet experience on the go. Even the iPhone, for all its impressiveness, is still small and less desirable than a larger screen. And the majority of people aren't going to carry around their laptops. 

I've also long been fascinated by the potential development of portable Internet devices that are neither conventional laptops nor cellphones. I think they're inevitable (the Kindle points the way). Yet, not even the new so-called "netbooks" really fit the bill (they're for business users and students). That's why TechCrunch's  audacious bid to build a cheap tablet computer is so intriguing. I hope they're able to succeed.

Initiatives such as Sprint's XOHM and others that will follow in its wake are likely to create near ubiquitous connectivity in several years in major US metropolitan areas. Europe will equally be blanketed with coverage. This permits the emergence of a new generation of touch-screen devices that offer larger screens -- to provide more complete Internet experiences -- but that are smaller than a laptop (or netbook).