In 2008 the world of computer hardware decided to think small. Within just a few years, computers went from towers that demanded space on your desk to tiny little gadgets that would sit in the palm of your hand.
This meant great things for the world of digital signage. The cost of digital signage players (a clever word for a computer) dropped dramatically, and the quality of the lower end ones went up. At a certain point, you could pick up a computer with an Intel Atom processor for three hundred dollars – and perhaps receive some change. The problem was, the guys over at Microsoft didn't want to play ball, and the result was a Windows license would cost close to three quarters of the price of these low end players. This quickly gave rise to Linux-based players, as well as custom players where you may not really know what is on it or how it works, but it promised to do the job.
Then the world of Smart TVs and Android decided to enter this party with their guns fully loaded. Samsung came out with TVs that had in-built signage capabilities and LG is following closely behind. Android powered TVs and the plethora of Android devices are now available for under $100 everywhere. These Android devices are no joke either: sporting quad-core designs, low power consumptions and not requiring its own power. It would be a scenario where if a player didn't work, you could literally throw it out and get a new one for cheaper than a technician investigating and repairing it.
You would think there would be a mass exodus of Windows and a new Era of Android Digital Signage that would take over the world, with the little green robot smiling away.
From the outset, if you are currently using DVDs and USB powered networks, or if you want to simply centrally control video and image content on screens and get reports and you have no IT requirements to deal with - then stop reading right now and get your Android player today. Contact us if you want help filtering the garbage from the ones that work.
But, here are some key things to remember, and things to share with the CFO before you save money on your digital signage players.
1.) In-Built Players lock you in to the screen vendor.
There is a very strong argument when it comes to standardising your hardware and equipment across your network. When you have remote devices everywhere, having the same thing at each site will make it easier for everyone: from content development down to on-site support. However, the trick with in-built players and smart TVs is that the hardware vendor is trying to lock you down to their product suite. In a growing network, you will likely want different size screens to fit your applications, and if you are extending the network to touch devices, you will want a different set of hardware for interactive devices. Yes, companies like Samsung do it all, but price points and quality differ greatly between the range.
So it is not unheard of wanting LG Screens to power your large format digital signage screens, and Toshiba powering your interactive screens, and Samsung Tablets to power your kiosk requirements. Separating your players from the screens (and separating your software choice from the hardware vendor) empowers you to have a standardised player environment; whereas the end screen can be whatever brand that fits the bill.
2.) Android as a commercial tool.
Android is pretty great for your phone and tablet, but when set up as a commercial tool, it can cause some issues in a corporate environment. Firstly, updating Android if it is jail-broken can be problematic, so quite often digital signage vendors won't or can't turn updates on. Despite what Google will lead you to believe, there are security problems in Android like any other platform, and when identified, you want to be able to update things accordingly.
Android also lacks cloud-based remote support. Organisations such as AirDroid are bridging this gap, but it isn't anywhere near commercially ready. This won't matter so much if you have a stable digital signage platform, but even then, sometimes there is a need to remote in to see what is going on, or if a site calls and things aren't quite what they expected. If there is one thing any tech support person will tell you, being able to remote into a device to see and have access to things is an invention on par with sliced bread.
Finally, depending on how advanced your IT policies are, they may not make allowances for Android devices. They are not great at setting up complex network settings like proxies and security requirements of signing in (LDAP integration). There is no concept of group policy and remote control of such matters in case policy changes. These things sound simple, but when we are dealing with remote devices, they can become costly tech call-outs.
3.) Integration and Flash
In any growing and complex network, you may find yourself with the need to integrate your digital signage network with other systems. Whilst Windows API's are very common in commercial application, you will find support for Android based systems to be rather lacking. For newer systems they use web interchanges that are no doubt platform independent, but ask a third party vendor if they allow it, they'll all say yes. However, ask them if they support it, and you might find yourself hearing a different answer. The most frustrating thing about any integration is finger-pointing between the two system providers. Windows has been around and used in commercial environments for so long that it's just easier to integrate.
Android also can be strange when mixed into AV equipment and it is not listed as a compatible device on most commercial AV equipment.
4.) On-Site Support.
Then we get to one of the biggest drawbacks. If your computer has an issue and it's a Windows environment, I bet you can think of 100 different on-site support people that can help if you don't have a teenager in proximity. If I asked you who can fix a broken Android system, you may hear crickets chirp. This is amplified in the commercial environment. There are national and international technicians and AV companies that can manage and support your Windows system with amazing turn around. We offer a one day turnaround in CBD environments as default. But for Android, the best they can do is replace the device and if it happens again, do the same ad infinitum. The expertise is not there.
Any cost saving you achieved between Android and Windows erodes near immediately on a tech call out in Australia, US or Europe. It is a case of cost of ownership vs. cost of operation. It is the latter that will sting in a poorly executed digital signage network.
5.) Windows is changing!
Yes, they were slower to the punch with devices, and the media has not been nice to the big M$ of operating systems, but they are catching up. In fact, CEBIT 2015 showcased the Intel Compute Stick powered by Windows 8.1. You can read about it here. Although it lacks many other benefits from a proper Windows player, it certainly removes the cost issue with the Windows platform.
Photo Courtesy of CNET. Five Faces does not own this photo. Original source here: http://www.cnet.com/au/products/intel-compute-stick/
We would always recommend a higher end, separated Windows player to power a growing network, particularly if there are plans of future expansion. For basic menu systems, reception and retail screens where the requirements are simple - the low end players of Android will definitely fit the bill, and save you the spend.
If you would like to discuss more about your options when it comes to a digital signage network, don't hesitate to contact Five Faces.
Chief Executive Officer
Five Faces Pty Ltd.