Cannes, France -- At noon Monday, delegates at the Cannes Lions festival streamed out of a seminar on Level 1. Several walked past a large interactive touch screen -- a sort of festival guide -- that was positioned nearby. As one woman stepped close to it, her name appeared there.
She uncertainly extended a hand and was quickly joined by Trevor Kaufman, CEO of WPP-owned Schematic. Schematic designed the "Touchwall," an interactive guide to the festival and its environs in Cannes. For the past several minutes he'd been hovering nearby observing reactions to it and periodically offering guidance. He showed the young woman how to the bring up information about the session she was looking for.
"You sort of have to learn how to touch it," he said, dragging his finger to scroll vertically through a list of topics covered.
The Touchwall is hardly the only interactive touch screen being showcased at Cannes. Indeed, they almost seem like a festival theme. Microsoft's Surface technology is on display some 15 yards away in a Microsoft-sponsored lounge (photo). And down on Level 0, attendees lined up behind two Coca-Cola touch-screen vending machines (photo).
Schematic laid plans to build its Touchwall about eight months ago, and the core team of interface designers started work earlier this year. While that team was made up of 15 people at Schematic, upwards of 50 people were involved in the project. The firm says Cannes attendees are using it to get directions around town, browse festival program information, trade contact info, and schedule meetings.
Schematic has discussed the technology with a number of clients, and by late summer it plans to roll it out for a Fortune 100 company. That experience will be for consumers and use a "kiosk-type format," it said.
To many here, what seems remarkable about the new touch-screen experiences is not so much the interactivity, which is available in most ATMs, but the elaborate interactive visual and information elements they can contain.
For example, the Coke touch-screens at Cannes let people spin a large, 3D bottle left or right, watch videos, or rub a simulated wall of ice. All in 3D and high definition.
To build its Coke machines, Cannes worked with Samsung, BMW Designs, and interactive agency Sapient. The machines will be distributed around the world in the next year or so.
Kaufman noted anyone designing such experiences must walk a fine line with user privacy. For instance, Schematic could have used the RFID integration to leverage much more information about people and provide a richer experience. However, Kaufman said, "It can get a little big-brothery."
And the technologies aren't perfect. By mid-day, light from the sun had begun to spontaneously spawn new windows in the touch screen. A staff member at Schematic occasionally stepped forward to close those windows with a few pokes.
Kaufman believes the technology is most useful in spaces where clusters of people can engage with it together, and synchronize their use of it using mobile devices.
"What we're finding is physical input into interactive devices and mobile devices is a really obvious pairing," said Kaufman. "The best is when groups use it together."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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