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What Is a Computer Kiosk?

By Nathan Spicer
Updated: May 16, 2024

A computer kiosk is basically a computer with some form of integrated housing unit. The simplest models are usually little more than an ordinary desktop or tablet fastened or fixed onto a table of some sort, often at the average height of someone standing to work on or access it, whereas more complex examples are fully streamlined touch-screen machines, as are frequently seen at airport and rail station self-service check-in counters. There are many uses and variations, though most are intended to handle self-service tasks, be it checking books out from a library or requesting a number at a butcher’s deli counter. Most kiosks come pre-packaged with software and are designed to handle the specific tasks the machine will be doing, and in most cases the computers aren’t capable of robust use not related to the task at hand.

Core Components

The terminal is what most people think of when they envision a computer kiosk, and in many ways this housing is what defines the machine. Just the same, kiosks can come in a wide variety of options, usually specific to the intended use. Some are very large, often featuring multiple screens and various controls, while others are quite miniature. The main thing that all of them have in common is that they’re a single unit. A computer sitting on a table isn’t usually considered a kiosk unless the two are inseparable by design.

In most cases the screen is the only truly essential computer component. Keyboards and mice are sometimes employed, but not always. Advances in technology have allowed many kiosks to forego the traditional mouse-and-keyboard layout in favor of touch-screens. This allows even more intuitive use of the machines, and often reduces the chance of hardware failure — which can be a real concern in high0traffic areas like transportation hubs and hospitals.

Main Purposes and Primary Uses

Kiosks are usually designed for "self-service," meaning patrons may use the device without outside instruction. Great care, therefore, is usually taken to ensure that the software and hardware are intuitively designed. The operating systems are usually common and universally understood to ensure the majority of users immediately understand proper procedures.

Computer kiosks appear in a variety of locations, from small cubicle-type areas at stores that permit applicants to apply for a job, to mobile, wheeled stations that many hospitals incorporate. They are extremely handy and remove a great deal of excessive human interaction. This permits more fluid customer movement, and allows organizations to employ fewer employees to manage customer interactions.

The kiosk’s intended tasks depend on the business using it. For example, events with participants numbering into the thousands who all require registration may use kiosks to facilitate quicker entry processes. Instead of each attendee signing their names in massive books or interacting with event handlers, a kiosk may be configured to handle check-in issues. The attendees simply enter their names on the self-service screen, along with perhaps their credit card or ticket information for identification purposes, and the computer handles the background registration information. Most will also print tickets, maps, and other useful information.

Possibility of Mobility

Though many are stationary, some computer kiosks allow mobility. In hospitals, tailor-made kiosks allow nurses to travel from various rooms without the need to carry a computer. Computers are situated inside a mobile stand that reaches about four feet in these cases. As with most other kiosks, the monitor and keyboard are normally laid out in a comfortable way to allow easy functionality and access; usually this means setting each device at arm’s length.

Security Concerns

In the early days of public computers, kiosks posed a number of concerns when it came to information security, largely in the context of malicious hacks and information data breaches. Modern software has largely quelled these concerns, at least insofar as information stored on and accessible through kiosk machines is easily locked down and restricted. Most of the problems people have with kiosks today is normal malfunctions and breakdowns that have nothing to do with security breaches or data loss. Especially as machines age, they’re more prone to stalling, freezing, and dropping requests mid-process. As such, operators, particularly those in very high volume places, are usually wise to commit to regular maintenance and servicing to avoid problems.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon941121 — On Mar 21, 2014

What is the type of computing device running behind the touch screen system?

By wander — On May 25, 2011

One of the best computer kiosks I have seen are the ones that they have put in at the airport. These kiosks are used to check you in, and prevent you from having to wait in line for hours just to get 5 minutes of face time with an airport employee.

At the kiosk you can scan your own passport, choose your seats, print boarding passes and even prepare your baggage for check in.

I really love these new computer kiosks for making my trips to the airport less painful and stressful. I recommend them to anyone traveling. If you are not sure if your airline offers these kiosks, you should call and ask.

By animegal — On May 24, 2011

I worked at a large bookstore and computer kiosks were a great addition to our workplace. They made our jobs much easier and really helped us answer our customer’s questions.

With so many book titles available for order having a computer kiosk, which was hooked to the Internet, allowed staff and customers alike, to easily find anything they were looking for.

These kiosks made our lives as salespeople much more efficient as we could answer questions about even the most obscure product instantly.

The in store kiosks also allowed customers to order items that weren't in stock. This was a wonderful feature because it was less likely we would lose a sale.

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