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June 22, 2004 12:01 PM

Broken: Airport keyboard

Seth Godin writes:

Here’s the keyboard from the standalone machine the airport uses to provide internet access. You pay by the minute. Yet the keyboard is awkward, sticky and overbuilt, as if it were going to be located in a prison or something. So you type as little as possible, reducing their revenue. If they used, say, a $29 useful keyboard, they might have to replace it once a month. Time to payback? One day.


You'd want to at least prevent them from popping off the keys. Public phone touchpads are a good example of usability and robustness.

Posted by: tom 7 at June 22, 2004 11:02 AM

Economically speaking, this is the rare case that the airport has no motivation to make the interface (keyboard) easier to use. A harder-to-use interface would necessarily increase a user's time to complete their task, and thereby increase the bill for the session (since it is pay by the minute). So it could work either to increase or decrease revenue.

Posted by: kk4i at June 22, 2004 11:07 AM

Replacing a keyboard doesn't cost $29/month; that's just parts. You also have to pay for the guy that does it, the guy that buys them, the guy that gets calls complaining that the keyboard was broken, the guy that refunds money to people who tried to use the thing when keyboards break, the truck and gas to get there, the lost revenue between keyboard failure and replacement, the reputation problem with customers from having kiosks that on average seem to break often, and the reputation problem with space owners who will be upset about not receiving their share for the period in which the keyboard was broken (and who might be inclined to go to a competitor who promises that their device won't fail monthly).

All of that is per unit; if you've got 1000 units in the field (probably low) and it takes 2h for a truck to roll, replace and return, then you've suddenly got 3 man-months of work to do every month working 24/7, or *12* man-months of work on a 40-hour workweek.

Put differently: Having to roll a truck is pretty harmful to your margins.

Posted by: mendel at June 22, 2004 01:01 PM

I've used one of these machines at the Denver airport.

I can attest that the keys are difficult to press and provide insufficient "feedback" to let you know that a button has been pressed. Their proprietary browser is slow and takes precious time to become familiar with. And perhaps most frustratingly, when you have 30 seconds left, the screen freezes and waits for user input before continuing. If you are a poor typist like me, you will have been pecking away only to look up and notice the fruits of the past 10 seconds are gone. And oh, the clock is still ticking.

If anything, these machines serve as commericals for laptop vendors, especially since so many airports are adding free wifi access.

Posted by: Zarate at June 23, 2004 02:39 PM

Hmmm... I think that perhaps they assume that since the keyboard is horrible, you will take longer to access the sites that you need to check, ergo earning them more money, AND them having to not replace it

Posted by: ruff_ilb at June 23, 2004 04:18 PM

_@_v - you should see the crapass useless terminals they have on toppa the empire state buildings.

Posted by: she-snailie_@_v at July 2, 2004 07:09 AM

These are called vandal-proof keyboards. Like mendel said, nice keyboards break easier.

Posted by: me at July 13, 2004 06:05 PM

i agree with ruff.... if its so hard to type, it will take longer to get the info you want

Posted by: garfield at August 11, 2004 03:14 PM

you could get a nice vandal-proof keyboard

Posted by: unknown at February 25, 2005 11:50 AM

They had one of these at the mall in my hometown and they *mucho* suck. I normally type at 50-65 wpm and they limited me to 30-40. But at least people can't pop off the keys or something.

Posted by: Tricky at July 15, 2005 02:24 PM

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