When NOT to use touch screens for digital displays

Fredrik Lund
Fredrik Lund | 5 minutes to read

Over the past few years, there has been a major increase in touch screens in our modern-day society. You may find them in airports when checking in, in fast food establishments when making an order, in grocery stores when checking out, and the list goes on. This makes a lot of sense as touch screens are convenient and can reduce manual labor and waiting time.

However, recent studies have uncovered some less than pleasant findings of touch screens. On average, there are about 253,857 colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch on airport check-in screens. That is a lot of bacteria on one small surface. Let’s compare that to the lavatory flush button on airplanes that have 95,145 CFU, or the tray table with 11,595. To put it in perspective, toilets tend to have 172 CFU. Not a thousand, just 172.


Antibacterial solutions for touch screen

Before we look at when you might want to rethink using touch screens, it is important to note that there are solutions to the aforementioned problem. Manufacturers of digital displays are aware of this issue and often offer antibacterial solutions for their displays. There are a couple of different antibacterial solutions on the market, but the most commonly used is antimicrobial coating. An antimicrobial coating is an application of a chemical agent on a surface that can stop the growth of disease-causing micro-organisms. This is generally very effective and can reduce bacterial reproduction by up to 99.99%.

It is important to note that there is a significant difference between antimicrobial and antibacterial coatings. While antibacterial products prevent the development of bacteria, antimicrobial agents such as alcohol-based hand sanitizers prevent the spread of bacteria, fungi, and some viruses. This is a much broader scope of protection than the protection found in antibacterial products. Antimicrobial solutions are thus more effective. However, while antimicrobial coatings inhibit the growth of bacteria, they do not kill bacteria. The Kiosk Manufacturer Association recently published an insightful article on the topic if you wish to learn more.

With that said, with antimicrobial coating on your digital display, you will most likely have reduced the bacteria levels to such a large extent that the touch screen will be safer than most other public surfaces. With the gory details out of the way, there are still some cases where you might want to rethink whether you should use touch screens for your digital displays or not.


When touch screens might not be the right choice

1. When it’s not necessary 

The first question you should ask yourself when deciding on whether your digital signage display should have a touch function is; is this really necessary? All too often, companies invest in touch screens, simply because it seems like a modern thing to do. You need to consider if there are actual benefits to using a touch screen on your display. Is it possible that you could simply have visitors or customers use their smartphones and a QR code on your display to achieve the same result?

For example, a touch screen kiosk to order food in a fast-food establishment makes a lot of sense. It improves efficiency and reduces queue time. The reduced waiting time in itself can be used as an argument why this would be considered a necessity in 2021. In fact, in many countries, customers expect touch screen kiosks to make orders or purchases.

An example where it is questionable whether it is necessary to have touch screen functionality is when taking a queue number in a bank or a retail store. There are better ways to achieve this using digital displays. Using a digital queue solution like Layn along with digital signage software, you can simply display a QR code that your visitors can scan on their smartphone and get a queue number straight into their phone. This also means that you will not have to replace the paper tickets in the ticket dispenser, thus reducing the need for manual labor. Furthermore, if the line is long, customers can do other things while waiting for their turn, thus improving the overall customer experience.

2. When self-service is not in your best interest

Self-service is one of the big buzzwords right now. It seems as if everyone wants to reduce manual labor and increase the level of self-service. Touch screen kiosks are a common solution to this. However, self-service might not always be in your best interest. While digital signage can indeed help you drive sales for products that are easy to communicate and understand, the sales of more complex products that may require human interaction could decline if you exclusively use touch screens to sell your products.

You also need to consider your target demographic. Certain demographics may prefer human interaction rather than doing everything themselves. While most companies want to teach their customers how to be self-sufficient, forcing them to be something they may not be, may lead them straight into the arms of a competitor. In this case, it might be more beneficial to use digital signage to communicate your current offerings to educate the customer about the product and then have the buyer’s journey end with human interaction.

3. When the touch screen is to be placed outdoors

Touch screens are generally not meant to be placed outdoors. Many displays will struggle in extreme weather conditions such as rain and snow or very warm or cold days. Just consider your smartphone. Not too long ago, some smartphones would stop working completely when it got too cold – and even if it did work, your gloves would prevent you from being able to tap on the screen. With that in mind, consider the technical challenges you may meet with a display that is maybe 20 times as large as your smartphone.

Now, there are touch screens designed specifically for outdoor usage and while these do mitigate some of these issues, depending on the technology they use, they may still have some weaknesses. Some outdoor touch displays are highly susceptible to impact damage and scratches, other outdoor displays that use infra-red touch technology can stop working on sunny days. Furthermore, the costs associated with having touch screens outdoors are generally quite high and you will find yourself paying more than you had probably expected to.

In other words, if you can find a way to use a digital display without touch screen functionality and have customers and guests interact with the display by using their smartphone, you will probably end up with a more affordable solution and less technical maintenance. As mentioned earlier, QR codes are generally a good way to achieve this.


Touch screens are great when used properly

While this article focuses on the cons of touch screens objectively, I would like to add a disclaimer that finding cons was a bigger challenge than finding the pros. Touch screens can be the perfect way to complement your digital displays and make them interactive, but it is important to note that you should not invest in touch screen functionality simply because it seems like a modern thing to do. Make sure that you have a clear idea of why you want touch functionality, what the benefits will be, and the potential risks of using self-service solutions.

In the current situation, with a pandemic on our hands, it is important to take health and safety into consideration. For this reason, it is advisable that you use an antimicrobial solution for your touch screens when used in public places.

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