Choose the right touchscreen for your application

Tablets and touchscreens are increasingly being used as a way of servicing or engaging customers, visitors and staff in retail stores, bank branches, showrooms, etc. Applications such as self-ordering kiosks, in-branch banking, surveys, visitor check-in and interactive applications for needs discovery are familiar to most of us.

My advice to organisations thinking about installing similar solutions is to avoid consumer touch devices (such as iPads) and choose commercial grade touchscreens instead. Commercial grade touchscreens are around 30% more expensive upfront, but in my experience, they have a significantly longer life expectancy, giving a lower cost of ownership; they allow for a better aesthetic and they eliminate the risk of catastrophic events brought about by various performance inconsistencies and physical swelling due to malfunctioning batteries.

Consumer-grade tablets are designed for intermittent and non-critical mobile use and serve this purpose well, but when it comes to applications that need to run continually, in a fixed location, a commercial-grade touchscreen with a purpose-built media player is a much better solution.

In addition to a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) there are several advantages that you might consider.

Commercial touchscreens look better

For fixed applications, consumer tablets need to be installed in a protective enclosure to create mounting solutions and eliminate tampering. Not only does this represent an additional cost, it makes the tablet look bulky, and not ‘sleek’ like a commercial touchscreen which features smooth edge-to-edge glass.

Malfunctioning batteries can swell, damage the device and cause fires

Because tablet batteries are not designed for continuous use, when they are charged for long periods of time, the battery heat up, expands and can warp or fracture the device they are within and in some cases, pose a fire risk.

Speaking from personal experience, a large organisation and well-known brand became aware of this too late and had to remove a fleet of tablets in their retail stores at a significant cost. Because commercial-grade touchscreens are designed for a fixed location, they don’t need a battery as they can be connected directly to an external power supply, which reduces heat and in turn increases life expectancy.

More sizes

Tablets generally only come in limited sizes – 9” or 12” whereas commercial touchscreens come in 10”, 15”, 19” and 22”, 32’, 42” – and beyond if necessary.

Different Orientations

Commercial touchscreens can be installed in the standard ‘landscape orientation’ as well as ‘portrait’ without voiding warranty or impacting life expectancy.

More rugged

To withstand continual public and potentially rough use, commercial touchscreens have a thicker toughened glass touch surface, so there’s no need to worry about that ‘screen cracking’ that we are all familiar with.

Commercial touchscreens typically have a life of five to seven years with continuous use and up to 10 years when used for just 8 hours a day. For consumer products, the lifespan varies with the particular manufacturer and level of use, but even a cursory look through online forums reveals a plethora of problems that can occur within the first two years, often shortly after the 12 month warranty period has expired.

Separate media player

A commercial touchscreen screen is, well, a commercial touchscreen which means it needs an external media player to drive it, whereas consumer tablets have the computing power – and additional heat – built-in. While this might sound attractive, having a separate, external media player means at any stage, the media player can be upgraded to improve performance without changing the screen. In addition, a separate media player offers better security and allows for remote management and diagnosis. It also offers more flexibility in shopfitting integration, potentially lowering cost.

In summary

Consumer tablets work well for mobile and non-continuous usage, for example, as support for a retail concierge or retail assistant – but shouldn’t be used for continuous commercial applications. Consumer tablets are primarily designed for personal use and not to meet the needs of rugged or continuous commercial applications.

While consumer tablets are cheaper initially, when you factor in the shorter life, the cost and hassle to repair or replace, loss of business or brand damage due to downtime, in my experience, the TCO – total cost of ownership – of a commercial touchscreen is lower. More importantly, for a consumer tablet, the risk of battery swell should be factored in. The risk of fire means potentially catastrophic consequences for which the cost impact could be significant.