While on my way home from my trip to the Grace Hopper Conference in Tucson this year, I got to spend plenty of time in a few different airports. While in Dallas on a layover, I saw a couple uses of technology that I thought were particularly clever.
• Gadget Vending Machines: I know these devices are not new. I’ve gotten used to seeing iPod vending machines in shopping malls; my local Macy’s has at least one. I had never understood the appeal, though. Gadgets costing over $100 tend not to be spur-of-the-moment purchases, so why would anyone buy an iPod or a digital camera from a vending machine? I’m sure better deals can be had online. When I saw one of these machines in the airport, however, it suddenly all made sense. Considering how easy it is to lose your gadgets when schlepping through security and such, an airport is one of the few places when you might suddenly decide that you needs a new digital camera or high-end pair of headphones. (I’m not sure about the iPods, because a factory-fresh iPod wouldn’t have any music on it, making it less than useful as entertainment on a plane.) The airport creates the perfect environment of hectic transportation and emergency purchases to support these machines, and I’d never thought of that before.
• Ad-Supported Public Internet: As I walked down the terminal, lamenting the lack of free wifi, I passed a kiosk offering free public internet. I thought this was strange, considering that when customers are trapped in a closed environment, like an airport (or a plane, for that matter), they usually have to pay through the nose for basics like food and internet. Intrigued, I took a closer look. It turned out this kiosk did indeed offer free internet access, and it prompted the customer to click on one of three ads on the screen to continue. It turned out that clicking on an ad started a short video, and after that, there was internet access. I didn’t test out the machine much farther than that, because who knows what kind of tracking software could have been installed. Still, I’m a fan of ad-supported services (Gmail, anyone?), and I think it’s a step in the right direction for airports to offer ad-based services rather than the digital equivalent of the $10 ham sandwich.