Kiosk Newsbit


June 23, 1999

A sudden push to provide Internet services in public places, seems to be spelling out quite a different future for the multimedia kiosk than may have originally been envisaged. BT's Touchpoint trial will give birth to two offshoots later this year - its own multimedia kiosk venture which will see ISDN-equipped Internet access kiosks in 'heavy footfall' public sites later this summer, and a venture with photo booth company, PhotoMe. BT regard the limited access provided by the Touchpoint trial as "redundant", and instead users will require full Internet access and e-mail facilities, which is a view both Safeway and EasyJet seem to support.

Supermarket multiple, Safeway has also announced it is to begin trials of in-store Internet access kiosks. The service will cost Pounds 2 for ten minutes to connect users to the Net via an ISDN connection, and will be targeted as an added value bonuses for Safeway's loyalty card holders, but will operate on a coin delivery system.

BT's deal with Photobooth

BT and PhotoMe will install one thousand multimedia booths from spring next year, which will contain BT's e-mail facilities and Internet access, plus specially made content from third part suppliers, including retailers, banks and travel agents. The booths will also contain a facility for users to plug in digital cameras and print out or email photographic.

PhotoMe has 4,300 booths in the UK, and plan to replace the majority of them with the new multimedia versions. The logic is straightforward: that photo kiosks will make money in the time they're not taking photographs. Internet access and laser printers for digital photographic output could certainly transform the kiosk into something busier and more interesting than it is at the moment. "This imaginative deal will provide everyone with the opportunity to go and try the Internet for themselves, regardless of whether or not they have access to a PC. "

Easy come?

One of the more ambitious - and riskier - undertakings however, is EasyJet's roll out of Easy Everything, a chain of cut price Internet cafes, starting with a 400 terminal site in London's Victoria later this year. "Capturing the imagination of the public," is how Tony Anderson, EasyJet's marketing director, explains the ambition behind the project. The intention is to spread the EasyJet brand into area it's not best known for. Much like BT's strategy, EasyJet intend to attract as many people online as possible by making charges as low as possible. Hence the one pound per hour charges. "What we're known best for is cutting out the middle man and taking on the big guy," says Anderson. As consumer trust is implicit in a transaction as high risk as air travel, the EasyJet brand commands a loyalty and awareness that can be stretched to other areas, according to the logic of the airline's entrepreneur founder, Stelios Hajo-Iannou. Initially the service will launch a car hire facility, later branching into areas unrelated to travel.

The wisdom of stretching a trusted brand into new activities and markets, is by now accepted wisdom in Internet strategy, (and not unknown to another certain airline), but backing a virtual presence up with such a sizeable physical one is new stuff, especially considering that EasyEverything has so far avoided creating a portal site. "We will be offering people the liberty to go wherever they want," says Anderson.

Of all the moves to bring Internet access to public places EasyEverything's seems the most elaborate and ambitious. Users will have the support of on-site uniformed staff in sites open for 24 hours. Anderson expects the Victoria site to attract 10,500 customers a day on its 400 thin end clients, which were chosen, he explains, because they take up less space than PCs and can ensure the customer traffic required to break-even on one pound and hour access, which will require 6,000 customers a day. "No, we're not using touchscreens, " says Anderson. " We tried them and they're not quite there yet. We don't want to be cutting edge we want to be proven technology. What matters to people is speed* You don't get the economies of scale we need with kiosks. " However he concedes that kiosks may have their uses and provide "a sustainable model" in certain areas, though after "eight or ten years " on the market, they have yet to find their niche.

EasyEverything is truly pioneering stuff, as Anderson rightly points out, this has never been tried anywhere - even the US. Yet in the states word has it that Internet cafes are on the wane, with 'Web ubiquity'/'Internet everywhere', enabling users to access the web from so many locations and from so many devices that public places such as cafes are now the last place people would want access from. This is one instance where the much quoted 'two year gap' that supposedly separates the US' state of Internet development from that of Europe, may be a benefit.

* Dataquest, the research company has published figures claiming that the European online population grew by over 80 per cent last year from 8.29 million in 1997 to 15.2 million in 1999.

Thanks Kinetic!

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