Blog | Interactive Signage Display: Why use commercial-grade

Commercial-grade tablets are purpose-built devices, ruggedized to withstand continuous use without maintenance. But they are also more expensive. Are they absolutely necessary?

No business wants to spend more money than necessary. So, at some point during the pricing of a digital signage solution, many companies ask us to help them make sense of the cost differential.

Why pay more for technology that is “approximately” the same? How does that make sense?

We understand this question has a few parts to it:

  1. What are the real differences between commercial and consumer tablets?
  2. How do these differences impact the value to business use cases?
  3. Are there circumstances where consumer-grade tablets would be OK?

We’ll start by answering the third question.

Yes, there are circumstances, but 99% of those use cases are really consumer applications.

Here’s the problem.

Interactive Signage Displays Need to Run Nonstop During Business Hours, or the Brand Will Lose Credibility and Sales

Traditional, printed signs do not take a lot of attention these days. As consumers, we use them peripherally, to check pricing and locate items in the store. As businesses, we can forget how much value they bring to the shopping experience.

But imagine trying to navigate a store without signs or price tags.

That is annoying enough, but with interactive tablets, the stakes rise even more.

Your customers will be using these tablets actively to help them make decisions and ultimately purchase items from you. The last thing you want is for them to lose that capability in the middle of their purchase.

The intent of a consumer tablet is to maximize the seller’s profits; the intent of a commercial tablet is to maximize your profits

The key difference in terms of business value between consumer-grade and commercial-grade screens is this: what is the real priority of the vendor?

The priority might be gathering data, or selling more apps, or books… Their priority is their priority, not yours. If they detect a flaw in the copyright protection system, they will push a patch out immediately and reboot all devices in the field, no questions asked and no apologies given.

Sometimes, as with Microsoft Windows 10 Home Edition (the consumer version), the OS will ask you first, but even these notifications can stall or interrupt applications. Sometimes, they do not ask.

And why should they? The typical consumer use case for a tablet is media consumption. Sure, it is annoying if the system reboots while you are watching the “Mandalorian” or “Game of Thrones”, but it is not a big problem. You can switch to your television or phone for the time being.

For a business, 30 minutes of downtime in the middle of the business day can cost a lot of money. As a business customer, you would have every reason to be furious with your tablet vendor if something like this were to happen.

That’s why it comes down to the priorities of the vendor and product you choose. As a vendor of a commercial-grade tablet, you would not stay in business if your products saw significant downtime. A commercial vendor’s priority is to maximize your profits.

Consumer tablets are designed for intermittent use, not continuous use

Let’s get back to the typical use case for a consumer tablet: media consumption. Aside from an occasional GoT marathon, your tablet is not running 24 hours a day.

If you look at consumer-grade hard disks, you will find that they are vetted at 8 hours per day of usage, whereas the operating duty of an enterprise-grade hard disk is 24/7 and roughly 10x the rated annual workload of a consumer device.

Mechanically, consumer-grade IT is not designed for long duty cycles, not for continuous use to stay on forever. It is subject to overheating, component degradation, etc.

For the same reason, you won’t see a consumer-grade vacuum cleaner in a hotel. It would not survive the day-to-day cleaning workload, but a commercial-grade vacuum cleaner will! The commercial-grade vacuum costs more, but it is more valuable to the business use-case.

Commercial grade tablets are designed for 24/7/365 use

Have more extensive, redundant active & passive, cooling solutions

  • Storage devices rated for 24/7 use
  • System updates wait until authorized by you — so take place during moments when they are not being used or seen by customers
  • Display-backlighting and other motherboard circuit components are designed to run continuously and last

Software Risks

So far, we have discussed hardware risks, but software is a significant component of any digital signage solution.

When you buy a consumer tablet, you also receive a consumer Operating System (OS). Again, this system is designed around the priorities of the vendor. And since they want you to pay for another product as soon as possible, the lifespan will be at most 1.5-3 years.

Given a consumer OS, you would have two choices for content management. The first choice is to buy an application from the app marketplace. This is another vendor you will need to deal with, also with their own priorities, capabilities, and service level that do not necessarily align with your business’. If something goes wrong, who will you turn to?

Many of these companies, even large tech companies, will buy up smaller products with reckless abandon, only to abandon them a few years later.

The other option is to sideload your own application, which avoids some issues with app marketplaces. However, you still face the same concerns with service and corporate politics.

Basically, these are all sources of risk to the reliability and longevity of the tablet. Again, these risks are fine for consumer-driven workloads, but businesses need to consider the consequences of downtime or having to replace technology in a very short time span.

How do risks impact the business use case for interactive tablets?

If you have never seen a malfunctioning digital sign in the real world, navigate to The Register and search for the term “Bork.” Among other “Snarky IT industry news tidbits,” the site reports examples of “digital signage gone wrong.”

You will find dozens of examples, such as: “Signs in a shopping mall with hundreds of passersby watching the Windows blue screen of death,” and plenty of other “cringeworthy” retail scenarios.

Digital signage naturally draws more attention than traditional signs. You want it to work reliably and to last a long time. At the end of the day, only commercial-grade tablets make those promises and keep them.

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