Interactive Flat Panels: The Magic Touch
A variety of features enable use cases that deliver value across numerous industries.
Standing before an 18-foot-wide display, patrons waiting for tables at a Hard Rock Cafe pass time swiping the massive screen. By selecting a time period, artist or other search criteria, they can browse through the restaurant chain’s vast collection of rock ’n roll memorabilia.
A shopper at a high-end boutique stands before a digital mirror, and with a touch of the screen, she can see what she would look like in different colors and sizes of the dress she’s trying on without having to change into them. The interactive mirror can also suggest accessories, adjust the lighting in the fitting room or let her purchase an out-of-stock item and have it shipped to her home.
These cases are just a tiny sample of the potential uses for interactive flat-panel displays. Industries such as retail, entertainment, healthcare and government are finding innovative ways to use this technology. While they look like they’re just large LCD or LED televisions, interactive flat panels foster a level of engagement and collaboration that goes far beyond passive viewing.
In many ways, interactive flat panels function like large tablets that multiple users can operate at the same time. Users can interact with a display as they would a digital whiteboard, writing or drawing on it using a pen, finger or wireless keyboard. They can open different apps, view documents and access the internet directly from within the display. These interactive flat panels can have computers built in to them or connect wirelessly to devices and networks, opening up virtually limitless possibilities for their use.
Beyond the Classroom
Interactive whiteboards have become ubiquitous in classrooms, but the concept has caught on in other fields.
An increasingly common use is in the quick-serve restaurant space, says Rosemary Abowd, an analyst at PMA Research. Customers can use displays or kiosks with interactive menu boards instead of waiting in line for employees to take their orders.
The interactive displays are also becoming familiar wayfinding tools in hospitals, government buildings, museums and amusement parks.
Some facilities are building upon these wayfinding capabilities. College campuses, for instance, use the displays to provide notifications such as safety alerts and weather emergencies. In amusement parks, like Disney World, visitors can get directions to rides, check the wait times and place themselves in queues before making their way to the rides.
Shopping malls and airports use interactive displays not only to offer customers maps and directions to stores but also to present rotating advertisements. This can generate additional revenue because the devices can display more ads. It also reduces the need for personnel to physically change ad displays.
The displays are catching on in office environments, too. “Interactive flat panels can assist in enabling meetings to start faster and share content quicker, all of which can increase workforce efficiency,” explains Andy Chien, product marketing manager for large-format displays at ViewSonic.
How Interactive Displays Help the Mobile Workforce
Interactive displays with embedded cameras, speakers and microphones have transformed conference rooms for today’s mobile workforces. Remote employees can not only participate in discussions as though they were in the room, they can view materials and interact with the content. A user can upload a draft PowerPoint presentation, and others in the room or at distant locations can share control of the document, make edits, add notes, save the document, upload it to the cloud or record the entire session.
Interactive displays can also transform corporate training sessions and help sales representatives inform and impress clients.
The Right Fit
To accommodate the vast array of uses for interactive flat panels, manufacturers such as LG Electronics, NEC Display, Samsung, Planar, Sharp Electronics and ViewSonic offer displays with a range of options and functionalities.
Organizations considering deploying interactive flat panels should first understand their return on objectives, advises Kevin Schroll, director of the Digital Signage Product Group at Samsung Electronics. “There are trade-offs in cost versus speed that business decision-makers should determine before purchasing,” he says.
If the goal is to implement a solution that can speed business processes, an organization might want to consider a faster display with a higher price tag. By contrast, informational signage at a museum might require a less expensive display.
Size is also an important consideration. “Each size has different features and benefits, though a lot of them have a baseline of built-in features,” Chien says. “Picking the right size helps with optimizing the viewing distance, based on the room size. For example, a 55-inch is generally ideal for huddle rooms, where something as large as an 86-inch would be better suited for ballroom-sized rooms.”
IT decision-makers should consider the type of touch technology driving the panel. Projected capacitive technology, used in smartphones and tablets, senses changes in the electromagnetic field when a finger or pen touches the screen. Infrared touch overlays, on the other hand, respond when something interferes with the infrared beams that form a grid on the display. “Each one of these touch technologies drive a different quickness in response time and cost,” explains Schroll.
The technology also affects how many touchpoints can interact with the display at the same time. The more touchpoints enabled, the greater number of participants who can share materials and simultaneously edit or annotate the content being displayed.
An important consideration for many businesses is which applications are available for the display. Products such as the Microsoft Surface Hub and Google’s Jamboard allow for seamless interaction with popular workplace tools such as Microsoft Office software and G Suite.
Before settling on a display, organizations should also consider the types of peripherals they’ll use with it and the content they’ll be sharing, says Chien. For instance, will they connect a wide-angle camera? Will they need multiple screens?
Organizations can also choose between displays with greater security that are limited to an enterprise network or open displays that can access the internet and allow users to download more applications and software.
Most modern interactive displays offer a far richer standard feature set than previous technologies. For instance, 4K resolution, delivering ultra-high definition, is becoming mainstream.
Wireless connectivity also is becoming standard. In the past, connecting displays to a network could be cumbersome, but today’s displays offer seamless network connections, much like consumer devices that stream content wirelessly. They even have built-in speakers and microphones, eliminating the need for external audio connections.
Other options include direct-bonded displays, which increase writing accuracy and reduce reflections, and antireflective coatings that reduce glare and resist fingerprints, says Steve Brauner, senior project manager for professional displays at Sharp Electronics.
"Try before you buy," he says. "Most specs look the same on paper but perform very differently in real life."