E-COMMERCE / Developers Seek Broader Uses of Interactive Kiosks        
                          (Newsday; 05/10/99)                          

   DEVELOPERS of interactive kiosks are betting that Web technology can make 
their devices as ubiquitous and easy to use as a pay phone.

   Ask any industry insider about their growth potential and you will hear only 
superlatives. But first, manufacturers have to overcome the general public's 
ignorance of what interactive kiosks are and the challenge of convincing kiosk 
buyers that the machines can make them money.

   Those in the know have a handy comparison always ready: The interactive 
kiosk is like an ATM but used for any end other than dispensing cash.

   Under this definition, a kiosk can come in the form of a listening column at 
a record store; a stock-trading screen like those planned by an Indian 
brokerage for deployment in train stations; or a public Web Phone, as seen in 
Hong Kong's new airport and developed by New Haven, Conn.-based Lexitech 

   Growth projections are bullish. Market researchers at Frost & Sullivan 
estimate the number of kiosks worldwide will grow an average of 27.3 percent a 
year between 1998 and 2004. In 1998, revenue was about $1.34 billion, up 36 
percent from a year earlier.

   Still, the industry is at a sort of widespread pilot stage, in which even 
the larger players are happy to boast about projects with 10 or 20 machines 
deployed - compare that with the 50,000 ATMs shipped in 1997 worldwide - while 
wishfully projecting unit shipments in the thousands for 1999.

   Companies that supply kiosks are as diverse as the industries they serve. 
Some are veterans in the hardware industry, like International Business 
Machines Corp., or NCR Corp., while others concentrate on developing the 
software, like Lexitech.

   "It's a systems-integration industry," said Rufus Connell, a researcher at 
Frost & Sullivan. "Some companies specialize in developing content software, 
and purchase enclosures" from firms like Factura Composites of Rochester, N.Y., 
or MicroTouch Systems Inc., based in Methuen, Mass., he said.

   The industry has its own crop of upstarts as well: firms like ObjectSoft 
Corp., based in Hackensack, N.J., or Golden Screens Co., based in New York but 
started in Israel.

   Experts attribute what they see as the imminent explosion of the kiosk 
market to an often-cited buzzword: convergence.

   They say cheaper hardware, widespread familiarity with the Internet, the 
development of Web protocols and improved touch-screen technology, combined 
with the need to make a more efficient use of personnel - in some instances do 
away with personnel completely - come together to paint a rosy picture for the 
kiosk takeoff.

   Kiosks also seem to find a warm reception within a handful of sectors: 
retail, finance, government agencies and tourism and entertainment.

   For financial companies, kiosks are a natural extension of the ATM that has 
served them so well.

   "The strategy of banks is, `Please use our ATMs and don't come into the 
bank, or we'll penalize you,' " said Lexitech president Alexander Richardson. 
So the more services that can be delegated to the staffless stations, the 
better, Richardson said.

   In the entertainment arena, Bob Geistman, vice president for business 
development at giant entertainment software distributor Ingram Entertainment, 
based in La Vergne, Tenn., sees ObjectSoft's FastTake kiosks as a potential 
interface for special-order business.

   FastTake is a sporty-looking kiosk aimed at video stores and allows shoppers 
to view trailers of up to 500 movies and search information on another 2,500 
titles. It does all with the crisp image and sound afforded by DVD technology.

   In kiosk design, ease of use seems to be an industry mantra. "A lot of 
people don't know what `file' and `save' means," said Richardson. Thus, most 
developers assume a fifth-grade education when choosing vocabulary for the 
interactive screens.

   Developers also stress the need for standardizing customer interaction with 
kiosks, an issue that seems to preoccupy the whole industry.

(Copyright Newsday Inc., 1999)

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