BT looked as if it was doing something sensible with its new idea of Touchpoint kiosks - for about five seconds. That's how long it took you to realise that the exciting new booths are not the revolution in street-corner computing we'd been led to believe.
For a start, the things won't even be let loose on street corners. The kiosks are to be put in 'managed environments' - which includes hotels, airports and public buildings, but probably not pubs.
They will provide access to constantly-updated information on sport, news, weather, entertainment guides and shopping facilities. The content will be supplied by partners like Threshers, British Airways, Interflora, Thomson Tour Operators and Barclays Bank. BT has launched a pilot scheme, costing #50 million, in which 200 of the booths will be set up in the South East.
The Touchpoint kiosks themselves are impressive. Supplied by ICL at a bargain-basement price of a mere #5,000 apiece, the spec is one that many IT managers would give their right arm for: a Pentium PC with CD-ROM drive, MPEG card, sound card, a 15in touch-sensitive colour screen, a laser printer, telephone handset, credit-card reader and coin slot.
Each will have an ISDN connection to a central server, but the handset will run over a standard phone line.
But there's no Internet access. Not only that, there's no direct feedback from the booths to the companies involved. This means that, when you've decided what booze, flowers or holiday you want, you've either got to pick up the phone (free, at least) and order it, or get a printout and trot round to your local branch of the relevant merchant. Businesses may feel their presence on the system is therefore pointless.
BT couldn't say why it hasn't taken that further step. It seems the company is just too cautious, wanting to take things slowly. Pity, as a little more adventurous spirit would have made the Touchpoint scheme a ground-breaking exercise in incorporating computers into our public environment.
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