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The Case For Building A Kiosk App

| June 11, 2020

Modern smart devices are used in virtually every industry for an assortment of reasons which is why many have taken to building a kiosk app to limit user access. While we could beat around the bush and make up flowery reasons for doing so, the bottom line is because you can’t trust everyone.

This is why the ticketing machine at a subway only allows you to use one very controlled app. Or handheld devices at a venue are heavily restricted to use a single app. Or why an ATM is refined to certain functions while using a card.

Businesses take advantage of kiosk modes and other tools to keep users out of areas where they could cause major damage or simply access restricted information. You don’t want this happening at your business for obvious reasons and some that don’t seem as apparent. Here, I walk through some scenarios where relaxed rules lead to headaches and explain why and where kiosk apps play a vital role in some businesses.

When end users have too much control

I consider myself a trustworthy person—as most people do—but there is still the underlying problem that I’m a human. We all get bored at some point.

Until 5 about years ago, I worked for a now-defunct company called Cloud PC where our flagship product was our cloud hosting service although we, as a very small company, would take on any tech-related project that came our way. During the time I was there, I had a few notoriously problematic clients.

One was a manufacturing facility that produced corrugated cardboard 24/7 just about every day of the year. Operators and production techs input specs to the corrugator using a thin client connected to a Windows Terminal Server instance running on our hybrid cloud.

Occasional problems would occur because the Windows machine should have operated more like a kiosk, only allowing regular users to access the corrugator system and a select few files. We still used older instances of Windows Terminal Server (i.e. before the 2012 edition) which was never set up to run in a “kiosk-like” mode.

Then there is the fact that Windows is, well, Windows—the use of Terminal Servers as proxy was an inherently dumb design we could have rectified through configuring or building a kiosk app but never did.

There would be the occasional hiccup with the Windows machine – while group policy prevented access to most of the system’s settings, there were holes that seemingly “just appeared” that could have (and sometimes did) enabled the machine to be altered enough to interfere with the interface to the corrugator app.

Thankfully, users rarely did anything malicious but when issues did arise, it was a special kind of hell.

The other problematic client was a Catholic church and school that hosted everything from preschool to the 8th grade. I could go on forever about little quips I’d find (usually traced back to a certain group of 7th graders) but I’ll spare you all the details.

School computers require a special balance of free reign while being locked down enough to prevent students from accessing certain content, administrative data, or running most non-educational apps (minus Minecraft for some of the children.) We found ourselves in this ongoing campaign to allow users to be as free and as open as possible while also mitigating risks that tend to piggyback on lenient rules. 

On paper, it’s easy enough to accomplish through solid administration practices. However, it becomes difficult when policies are forever changing, and when certain users constantly need special privileges given or taken away.

The “whys” of building a kiosk app

A multitude of scenarios can be found in today’s businesses where end-users are required to interface with specific software but don’t need access to anything else on a system. For example:

  • Manufacturing technicians may only need access to the software required to interact with a machine.
  • Foodservice workers typically only need access to ordering systems and POS applications.
  • Medical staff often may only need access to specific software like EHR or EMR systems, scheduling software, and office productivity suites, depending on their role.

The easiest example is probably the foodservice industry. Outside of fine dining and locations that offer a constantly changing menu, workers simply need software that ensures the order gets to the kitchen properly and in a timely matter as well as have access to POS features that enables the collection of payment.

Unlink the Catholic school mentioned above, there’s little to no need for access to other apps which could cause anything from security issues to simply reducing a worker’s productivity.

Access to apps outside those needed for business can pose all kinds of problems which is why we recommend building a kiosk app for certain segments of users. This is something we did for our client, Magic Money which functions as a ticketing and payment app for events and established entertainment venues like theme parks. 

Workers don’t need access to office productivity software, system settings, or Minecraft so restricting access to only the required software keeps operations running smoothly.

Further, building a kiosk is a good idea for certain businesses as it also allows you to limit the distribution of an app to controlled devices. It reduces the risk of a random person obtaining the app from the Play Store then scanning it for vulnerabilities. Like in the case of Magic Money, Ride attendants simply have access to the Magic Money money app that runs on an Android handheld made by Sonim Technologies and nothing else.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to enable kiosk-like settings for various kinds of apps. For example, most web-based apps that run in Google Chrome can be set to run in kiosk mode. User accounts can be configured such that Chome opens automatically to a specified URI which operates as a kiosk app, circumventing any possibility of the user navigating to another part of the system or even another website.

For apps running on Android, systems can be configured locally or through an MDM solution to run a singular app with restrictions to features like the ability to close the app, browse the OS, and possibly open another app. To do the same for iOS—as you see at many airports—devices first need to be jailbroken for such apps to run such software.

To complete the kiosk experience, we like to use the MDM software from ScaleFusion to lockdown and control enrolled devices. This allows us to administer the devices by shutting down all app access beyond the kiosk app as well as push new versions of the kiosk app to the devices whenever there is a change or hotfix to deploy.

By funneling users to use specific software, businesses have less to worry about, whether that’s a user accessing a site and acquiring some form of malware, a loss of productivity due to using other apps like games, or accessing restricted information.

We build software that keeps your business and users safe

Some roles in business are best served by heavily restricting systems to offer only that which is needed to perform certain tasks. Building a kiosk app is one way to keep prying eyes and bored users from getting into places they shouldn’t. Get in touch with Blue Label Labs to learn more about how we build software to suit any business need.

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