Kiosk Definition Kiosk Machine

By | April 10, 2018
modular kiosks

Kiosk Definition or Kiosk Machine

The kiosk originally began as the town square notice board for the community to post notices.  The usual reference in Wikipedia will call out Persia as the originating language for the word. What began as common ground notice posting location matured into RMUs (Remote Merchandising Units) that you see in malls or wherever.  With the advent of the internet they took on their electronic iteration in the late 90s.

You now have electronic kiosks aka kiosk machine or digital kiosk and you have RMUs (think of Verizon phone kiosk or the Godiva chocolates .at the airport). The old original kiosks have been replaced by the digital signage kiosk and digital kiosk signage. Wayfinding and big 55 inch screens with software from 22Miles and others.

A “functional” variant might be the supermarket self-checkouts but those are more aptly described as “hybrid POS” or Point of Sale. They are also usually assisted by dedicated person scanning coupons and solving issues.¬† Legal suits have come up for those assistants helping the disabled with cash back.¬† Supermarket checkouts have their own set of fraud and theft both customer and employee.

Recently Amazon began the “Just Walk Out” stores which are million-dollar iterations utilizing lidar and cameras. Typically there is a “kiosk” at the entrance where you sign in via biometrics (palm print).¬† Technically you have a kiosk inside a kiosk with those.

What is a kiosk?

July¬† 1994 from comp.infosystems.kiosks — well, I seem to recall having a discussion like this during the discussion phase for the group. If you’re asking me PERSONALLY what a kiosk is, I’ll answer as best I can, but I’d also like to see some other people’s responses. After all, my definition might be wrong — I’d like to find out.

My definition of a kiosk is a stand-alone terminal of some sort, usually surrounded by some sort of booth (but not always). Kiosks can perform many functions including transactional (electronic funds transfer) and informational (what hours are the Valley Library open?) and functional (print me out that Hallmark card I just designed). Much if not all of what a kiosk does is determined by it’s software. They can be network-connected or not, can have fancy video, etc. or not — it all depends on the software and how much effort the developers put into it.

There are also a number of hardware considerations, but I think these are something I’m not as strong on and will let others answer. -dknight

For the masses, it started with airline check-in terminals and photo kiosks (from Kodak and Fujifilm) and also ATMs.

For more frequently asked questions including “What is a kiosk” be sure and look over the KMA Global website FAQ. You will also learn under what conditions a burrito is considered a sandwich ūüôā

What a kiosk is NOT

Sometimes it helps to figure what something isn’t in order to narrow down what it is. Here are some examples.

  • An ATM — it really is an “kiosk ATM” but it has been branded an ATM forever so in that sense it is not. Follows the same regulations.
  • Supermarket Checkout – these hybrid POS “pod-oriented” self-service checkout machines are generally a conglomeration of devices mounted together, and generally under the supervision of store employee (which grants them “assisted” transaction status)
  • A bulletin board at your local park providing rules, hours of operation and other related info.¬† Sometimes they go digital but not often
  • Digital signage in storefronts advertising latest specials/etc and having no form of interaction. That can get tricky if the digital sign includes presence detectors and does a demographic analysis but that is NOT bidrectional interactivity.

Some General Observations on What A Kiosk Is

For sure:

    • They allow interaction usually with touchscreen
    • Usually customers/prospects oriented

      Kiosk Machine - What is a kiosk? Kiosk Definition

      What is a kiosk? Kiosk Definition Click for full size image

    • Many are employee-oriented
    • Generally a touchscreen.
    • Either informational or transactional in nature.
    • Multiple units are typically standalone and in a line to help traffic flow

Your typical kiosk today is very much different than those. They are self-service kiosks, usually electronic, and can be found in all walks of life.  The form factor ranges from a mobile device to a tablet to a larger enclosures (usually metal but also plastic and wood).

Kiosk Definitions and Iterations

Our latest definition?  A terminal that allows customers or employees to get information and/or conduct a transaction, without the assistance of a person. It may or may not have a touchscreen for example.

Here are some of the main categories for the modern-day kiosk.

    • In malls, events, tradeshows and other locations you have the RMU, which is a Remote Merchandising Unit. ¬†Point of Purchase fixture iterations. Many current self-service kiosk companies evolved from these units design and manufacture and continue to do a large business in these. Examples would be Olea Kiosk and Ikoniq (main business being RMUs).
    • It is generally interactive but not always.
    • It most often provides a computer (such as Dell Optiplex) and has a 17 or 19″ 5:4 aspect touchscreen (between 7 and 84 inches). 2020:¬† more likely an AIO and at least a 22 landscape.
    • Most often than not it is unattended. Companies like to stretch this into a quasi semi-attended mode where employees offer to assist.
    • It is a standalone enclosure in the most common iteration.
    • Examples follow
      • Airline Check-In Kiosks – pioneered by Kinetics and others. Major vendors include NCR, SITA, and dwindling IBM. They have also moved into the baggage area.
      • ATM Machines – Historically it has been NCR, Fujitsu, Nautilus, Triton, IBM with Wincor Nixdorf and the ISOs (Independent service operators).
      • Bitcoin Kiosks and BTMs and Crypto Kiosks are big things in 2022
      • Electronic kiosks – this is a big category. It basically includes all categories which can be bill pay kiosks, kiosk software for lockdown, financial kiosks and more.
      • Internet Cafes – ¬†sometimes a keyboard can’t be beaten. These are one of the originals and helped educate the masses on using the Internet everywhere. ¬†We used them all the time when we would visit London, England.
      • POS Terminals – includes customer-facing POS terminals whether for entering loyalty number.
      • Food Order Kiosk – Mcdonald’s kiosk is a prime example. Order your own burger made to your preferences.
      • Gaming Kiosks – ¬†the military uses these for letting the soldiers relax (and train) at the same time.
      • Parking kiosks – whether on the street or in the garage
      • Outdoor kiosks – all kinds.
      • Hoteling – this is where office workers work at the same building but can sign up for any desk for the day. ¬†Larger companies experiment with this and in this age of BYOD it is relevant.
      • Information Kiosks terminals – can be as simple as barcode lookup in grocery aisle or online “showrooming”. ¬†AKA Interactive kiosk.
      • Interactive Digital Signage – a contradiction in terms but Digital Signage often is a large touchscreen and offers Content Management Services as well as Advertising. The touchscreen provides major ROI component.
      • Immigration and Security Kiosks – found at airports as well as Border Control. ¬†These units typically utilize biometrics.
      • Registration kiosks for loyalty and membership.
      • Gift card kiosks such as Coinstar Gift Card Exchange Kiosk.
      • Retail kiosk – this can be many iterations. The latest ones are beginning to introduce Beacons and Facial Recognition for recording demographics and traffic patterns and customer flow.
      • Gift Registry kiosk – one of the originals and still going. ¬†Our teeth were cut developing the Bridal Registry and Baby Registry kiosks for Target. Multi-generational marketing at its best (kids shop where Mom shopped)
      • Tablet kiosk – typically used for registration and quick lookup they have the advantage of being small and can be place at eye level.
      • Vending – these can add nutritional information mandated by the government. They can dispense sandwiches, coffee and a large range of merchandise (Zoom is a pioneer).
      • Pharmacy kiosk – medicine prescription dispensing kiosks are becoming more popular.
      • Lockers – picking up your merchandise from Amazon or Fedx or UPS.
      • Charging kiosks – ¬†need to charge your mobile phone? ¬†There are kiosks for doing that.
      • Coin KIosks – the most famous is Coinstar.
      • Music, Movie and Media download kiosks – get your DVD on USB now
      • DVD kiosks – ¬†still going with Redbox and others. ¬†Locations and demographics are important.
      • Hospitality – hotel check-in kiosks
      • Healthcare – patient check-in kiosks
      • Telemedicine and Telehealth – ¬†whether at the supermarket or at corporate headquarters, remote healthcare structures are hybrid of RMUs. ¬†These extend into home monitoring and follow up for post operative patients to maximize results (and government incentive rewards).
      • Marijuana & Cannabis – one of the emerging markets with its high use of cash, security and new multiple form factors such as edibles.
      • Photo Kiosk – still going strong and one of the original heavy hitters. Kodak at one point had over 60,000 in place.Prison kiosk – video visitation and more
      • Social kiosks – interacting with your friends at wanna-be-seen locales becomes fodder for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The payback is demographics.
      • Kiosk Software – lockdown software or Windows Kiosk Mode software is very popular. PROVISIO and KioWare are prime providers but versions for thin clients, Chrome Kiosk, and more are available.
      • Survey Kiosks – can be as simple as a 4 button “How Was Your Experience?” device (we like those) or a tablet. ¬†Surveys are better being short to improve response rate.
      • Wayfinding kiosk – despite GPS enabled mobiles navigating a large structure can require clear instructions whether consumer or corporate.
      • Wine Kiosks – As a recommendation and selector function these do quite well. Experiments in dispensing wine were plagued by being poorly regulated and operated.

So what is a kiosk?  Here is one: 

Typically a computerized terminal used by the public or employees for services.

We’ll continue to add details and more information in the future.

More Information on What A Kiosk Is




Author: Staff Writer

Craig Keefner -- With over 40 years in the industry and technology, Craig is widely considered to be an expert in the field. Major early career kiosk projects for him include Verizon Bill Pay kiosk and hundreds of others. Craig helped start kioskmarketplace before leaving. Note that the point of view here on kioskindustry is not necessarily the stance of the Kiosk Association or