Google Testing Chromebook Kiosks for Business Users

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-05-01

Google Testing Chromebook Kiosks for Business Users

Google has been testing Chromebook-equipped store kiosks that make it easier for businesses to help their customers and employees check merchandise stock, place orders or get more information while shopping or working.

The kiosks use something Google calls "Managed Public Sessions" to allow employee and customer use of the devices without the need for logging in, according to an April 30 post by Vidya Nagarajan, product manager for the Chrome for Business unit, on the Official Google Enterprise Blog.

"Because Chromebooks are low cost, easy to set up and manage, and require virtually no maintenance, Chromebooks with Managed Public Sessions make perfect shared kiosks," wrote Nagarajan.

"With easy personalization and built-in security, Chrome devices were made for sharing," wrote Nagarajan. "The new Managed Public Sessions feature delivers a highly customizable experience for both customers and employees without requiring a login."

Some of Google's suggested uses for the Chromebook kiosks include:

  • Ordering out-of-stock items online while customers shop at a retail store.  
  • Searching for books and browsing the Web at the library. 
  • Updating machine and inventory information from the manufacturing floor of a company.
  • Accessing a company portal and updating human resources information from the employee breakroom.
  • Catching up on work in a hotel business center.

Chromebook notebooks and their desktop brethren Chromeboxes run Google's Chrome operating system and feature a wide range of preinstalled, cloud-based Google services and products, including Google Docs and Google Calendar.

Google and its partner vendors who have built Chromebooks so far, including Samsung and Asus, have been pushing Chromebooks as Internet-connected devices that can be cheaper, faster and more nimble than traditional laptops and notebooks. Chromebooks allow users to do their work online with less need for on-machine storage for large applications and files. One shortcoming, though, is that users need good connectivity to use their machines, and offline work can be a challenge, according to critics and reviewers.

At the same time, the machines can be inexpensive and well-featured devices that allow users to accomplish a wide range of tasks without the bloat and mass of a traditional laptop or notebook machine.

Consumers, however, haven't been jumping aboard the Chromebook bandwagon in huge numbers, based on sales so far. In fact, several systems makers have released Chromebooks in the last year and they haven't proved overwhelmingly popular with consumers, causing some vendors to retreat or try again with new machines that offer expanded features.

Google Testing Chromebook Kiosks for Business Users

The Chromebook kiosks can be easily customized by administrators, according to Google, using a Web-based management console. "The features that you'll find in the console include the ability to set the default sites and apps a user sees at login, custom brand the homepage, block sites and apps that shouldn't be accessed, configure device inputs and outputs, and set timed log-out sessions," wrote Nagarajan. "For security reasons, public session data is cleared on logout so the next user starts fresh."


Google has been testing the devices and the public sessions feature with several users, including Dillard's retail stores, the Multnomah County Library in Oregon and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, according to the post. Initial results have been promising, wrote Nagarajan.


"We have many more employees than computers at our retail stores, so being able to share devices is key," reported Woody Chin, the CIO of Dillard's. "With Managed Public Sessions, employees can walk up to any machine and get immediate access to their corporate email and important internal systems. And since Managed Public Sessions wipes all data at logout, it supports our PCI compliance requirements."

Victor Povzner, the senior IT director at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, reported that he's been "running Chromeboxes with Managed Public Sessions in employee break areas. We really like Chromeboxes' speedy browsing, easy management and security. Employees use Chromeboxes to access Hyatt's payroll system, request time off and stay up to date on internal news. They can also access personal email and social sites during breaks, and I don't need to worry about viruses and malware infecting Chromeboxes."

In March, Google began expanding the sales of Chromebooks to six additional nations and in more Best Buy stores in the United States as the search giant and its Chromebook manufacturing partners continue their efforts to popularize the smaller, lighter and inexpensive Internet-centric computers, according to a recent eWEEK report. Acer, Hewlett-Packard and Samsung Chromebooks are now being rolled out in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

In January, Jim Wong, president of Acer, said the company's sales of Chromebooks were doing well, while sales of Windows 8 computers were dropping, according to an earlier eWEEK report. Sales of the Chrome-based machines accounted for 5 percent to 10 percent of Acer's U.S. shipments since being released in November 2012.

The growth of Chrome OS sales and the disappointing Windows 8 sales are causing Acer to look at new strategies, the report said. Across the industry, sales of traditional Windows desktop and laptop computers have been declining for some time as tablets and smartphones are attracting new users and sales, effectively replacing Windows machines in many cases.

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