The Future of Digital Signage is Built on Smartphones

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A couple decades ago, embedded designers developing solutions for digital signage turned to the PC architecture. It offered a proven, high-volume platform, a large and dynamic ecosystem, easy-to-use design tools and operating systems on a very familiar hardware architecture. Simple. Obvious.

Fast forward to the present day. When today’s digital signage solution providers want to leverage the very same set of benefits, they look to the smartphone industry. With more than a billion units sold every year, designers in a wide range of fields are looking to mobile technologies as the basis for their products and solutions. They can leverage the smartphone ecosystem and take advantage of wireless connectivity for digital signage systems, especially interactive, outdoor and mobile/portable signage. The analogy is nearly perfect: For today’s digital signage developers, the proven, high-volume platform with integrated computing and connectivity offers the latest cellular, multimedia and machine learning capabilities needed for signage solutions.

Connectivity to reduce digital signage downtime

The most commonly reported issues with digital signage systems are set-up, blank screen and player reboot issues.[1] Imagine the option of adding 24/7 wireless wide-area connectivity with virtually no compromises on computing power, security, cost or development tools. While not every signage implementation requires this always-on wireless connectivity such as fixed, indoor displays, having the cellular connectivity option can enable superior remote monitoring and diagnostics capabilities that can reduce signage downtime significantly. This can translate to “No More Blank Screens,” resulting in terrific customer experiences and higher revenue in the case of advertising signage. Even if the system is unplugged accidentally, it can be accessed remotely when the implementation combines battery backup with cellular connectivity.  For instance, the Verizon 4G LTE media player with wireless connectivity with Verizon’s Digital Signage solution offers the cellular connectivity feature, which makes the signage solution very portable and flexible.

Increasing engagement through smartphone-like interactions

Interactive signage is an important and growing category within the digital signage segment. From interactive kiosks in smart cities to food ordering systems in restaurants, signage customers are looking to engage with their customers by offering a user experience that their customers are most familiar with — the Android based mobile experience. For instance, mobile innovators have already developed immersive engagement. Viewers of digital signage can interact via touch, voice and gesture. The Android-based mobile device ecosystem is one of the largest, most dynamic ecosystems available today. The enormous volumes for this market can provide significant cost advantages. Developing on the Android means access to their huge developer community. The Elo Backpack product from Elo Touch Solutions, Inc., the inventors of a touchscreen solution, leverages this power of Android to transform touchscreen monitors and signage displays into commercial-grade custom kiosks capable of running audio and video content, interactive HTML webpages and Android-based apps.

Mobile platforms are designed to deliver key technologies for digital signage

The move from x86, PC-based to mobile architecture can provide access to the high-power/low-power beauty of the smartphone architecture. Mobile platforms from firms such as Qualcomm Technologies are already engineered to provide high-power computing with low power consumption, along with integrated connectivity, touch display, multimedia and camera capabilities. And now digital signage customers can leverage these mobile architecture benefits also with the Windows operating system that is widely popular with signage developers. There is an extensive ecosystem of Windows-based content management developers for digital signage. One such product, the Xogo Mini, a Windows 10-based media player, can make the signage set up process incredibly easy without breaking your bank.  

Other innovations of the mobile ecosystem are just as applicable. Augmented reality and artificial intelligence can expand and deepen engagement in a way that still seems almost magical. Bluetooth Low Energy beacons can mean very precise indoor location. And the list goes on.

Equally long is the list of applications and vertical markets for digital signage based on the new paradigm of the smartphone OS ecosystem. In addition to the obvious applications in retail, transportation and outdoor display, other ripe markets include corporate communications, education, medical facilities, restaurants and hotels to name a few. 

In addition, digital signage based on this paradigm is superior in its ability to enable the display of the right content at the right time at the right location. With the growth in mobile advertising, a vast amount of advertising content is now developed for mobile platforms.  Leveraging the same content across various channels can help businesses and advertisers reap the benefits of much-touted omnichannel marketing.

Machine learning further improves analytics and targeting capabilities

Today’s advertisers who are used to precision marketing on mobile channels are looking for the same experiences on other channels. The ability to use on-device machine learning to deliver a targeted message or a special offer to a viewer standing in front of the digital signage, assessing and computing information such as gender, age, brand preferences, shopping habits, etc., can be game changing for providers of advertising signage – one of the largest segments of digital signage. These capabilities that are available on today’s mobile architecture mean advertisers can know much more than an impressions count and get a more reliable measure of ROI. Now they can know who watched the content and for how long. They can know the viewer’s reaction to the content. Did they look happy and engaged? Did they take any action based on the content? While these use cases have been  contemplated by signage customers for quite some time now, computer vision, machine learning and video analytics technologies – all pioneered, implemented and proven on the mobile platform – are now ready to help provide the critical insights that advertisers need to justify premium rates.

All these factors mean digital signage developers should be looking at how they can capture data, prove its ROI and monetize it.  Digital signage can now be far more than just one-way communication. The online world has broken into the physical world. Savvy digital signage developers will think beyond the hardware to new business opportunities – and even to new business models – as this physical world is populated with smart, connected digital signage.

[1] http://www.eproductalert.com/digitaledition/embeddedsystems/2017/09/Embedded_Systems_Engineering_September_2017.pdf

About Author

Dr. Jeffery Torrance serves as the vice president of business development for Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., where he is responsible for the Industrial IoT business. He has more than 20 years of experience spanning consulting, investor relations, and business management and development.

He began his career at IBM, and later worked at PA Consulting where he analyzed, developed and co-authored strategic recommendations for blue chip clients. In 1999, he co-founded UbiNetics, a pioneering 3G technology company, where he become senior vice president and business unit manager of volume product technology. Before joining Qualcomm, Jeff served as vice president of investor relations and corporate development at CSR, where – based in the Bay Area – he led the company’s strategic transformation to grow outside the mobile handset. He moved to Qualcomm following the Company’s acquisition of CSR. Torrance holds a Ph.D in digital modulation from the University of Southampton, U.K.

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