Advertisers were quick to sign up to BT’s Touchpoint kiosks. Gordon
MacMillan reports on what they offer
If you’re walking through the Trocadero or the National Gallery and see
someone being spoken to by a television sited in a futuristic kiosk, do
not panic. You have spotted one of the BT Touchpoint Interactive kiosks
now being rolled out.
Two hundred such touch-screen kiosks will be put in place over the next
few weeks in and around London as part of a six-month BT trial, billed
as the biggest and most comprehensive of its kind to date in Europe.
While there are several other trials around, such as British Rail’s
Adrail and Thomas Cook’s in-store multimedia kiosks, neither compare in
Touchpoint will give the public a broad, first-hand taste of practical
interactivity, offering sport, news, weather, travel and entertainment
services provided by leading companies through a combination of CD-Rom
and Internet technology.
The applications are tailored to provide specific services and no more.
This is because the kiosks are in public places and, effectively, the
time each individual spends in the kiosk must be limited to allow a
steady flow of users.
Andrew Pryde, head of multimedia kiosks at BT, claims that there was no
difficulty in attracting companies to the trial. They were wooed by the
opportunities it offers to expand their coverage - though not
necessarily in a marketing sense. The transactional potential of the
kiosks - in tandem with a credit card and the ordinary BT telephone
situated at the side of the screen - will be the key to their success.
‘Kiosks can, in some instances, act as mini branches for certain types
of business and the potential that offers companies is huge,’ Pryde
says. He believes that the kiosks will extend the experience of
multimedia to those people who do not normally have access to it.
Touchpoint, designed by Tutssels to appeal to three broad groups - city
residents, commuters and English-speaking visitors - breaks down into
five sections that are accessed by a central menu on the system’s home
page. There is current affairs, which offers news, sport, weather and
horoscopes - all provided by the Press Association; an entertainment
section includes listings, courtesy of the Guardian Guide, which users
can browse and then, through an Odeon Cinemas tie-up, purchase tickets
‘Local focus’ offers a what’s on-style guide to community activities for
Kent and London, provided by the regional newspaper publisher,
Newsquest, and Kent County Council; the street guide is provided by
Bartholomews; and the ‘high street’ incorporates shopping and banking
facilities through which transactions can be made. Interflora,
Threshers, Barclays Bank and the Halifax Building Society are among
those signed up for the trial.
The quality and scope of the services on offer do vary greatly.
Barclays, for instance, sees Touchpoint as complementing both its
existing service through branches and its own PC banking pilot. The
system allows customers to apply for anything from a loan to a
Barclaycard. At the other extreme, Thomas Cook offers a simple mapping
service that shows users where the nearest bureau de change is located.
Graham Cook, an associate from Thomas Cook consumer futures, defends his
decision not to use the system in a more sophisticated way. ‘We have our
own kiosk trial in some of our stores and they do allow more complex
transactions,’ he says. ‘Touchpoint is located in public environments;
customers are not going to want to book their honeymoon on a street
corner in London.’
Quite how much they do want to do at such locations will be clearer at
the end of the trial. Pryde says it will be reviewed over the next six
months. If judged a success, a national roll-out will follow.