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The Device Will Tell You Everything About NYC, But Will People Use It?

PIX11 News puts the city's first fully operational touchscreen info kiosk to the test

JAMES FORD

PIX11.com | @jamesfordtv

6:38 PM PST, November 23, 2012

UNION SQUARE, MANHATTAN (PIX11)

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City Hall hailed it as a great new way for people to get information on New York City streets while at the same time reviving a neglected street-level resource. Now that the city's first on-the-sidewalk touch screen information kiosk is up and running, PIX11 set out to see if it lived up to its hype.

The Bloomberg Administration and the information technology company City24x7 announced in April that they were partnering to install more than 200 large touch screens at locations throughout the city's five boroughs.

The screens, which are approximately 1 foot by 2 feet, are set to be installed at pay phone locations. The first, and for the next few weeks, only, touch screen information kiosk is in the Union Square neighborhood, at a pay phone shelter on the southeast corner of 12th Street and Broadway.

The digital info kiosk, which is named City24x7, after the company that designed and installed it, is intended to provide hyperlocal information to anyone who passes by and touches the screen.

It provides information about restaurants, tourist attractions, businesses and other resources, from libraries to mass transit.

In putting City24x7 to the test, PIX11 wanted to find out a few specific things. One, how often would people use the free, public, street-level device, two, how thorough and accurate was the information it provided? Three, how easy would it be for anyone to use City24x7?

We specifically searched for cheap eats in the Union Square neighborhood. After entering a basic search on the tablet-style screen, City24x7 gave us five options, the most affordable of which was a Subway sandwich shop at the end of the block, which featured 12-inch sandwiches for $5.00 plus tax. Not bad at all, for price.

However, most people have smart phones or computers to give them information about the city, which begs the question, why have this service at all?

One answer to the question came in the form of two tourists from Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. The couple were self-described fans of Seinfeld, and PIX11 encountered the boyfriend and girlfriend as they tried to figure out how to get from Union Square to Tom's Restaurant, the Morningside Heights diner that serves in the sitcom as the restaurant where Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer regularly meet to discuss their exploits.

The couple stepped up to the touch screen exactly 10 minutes and 15 seconds after PIX11 began a stopwatch to see how often the digital info kiosk would be used.

Even though their access of the service indicated that there may be times when it's only used by 6 visitors per hour, the experience they said they got seemed to make a visit worthwhile every time.

"It was very simple and logical to use," said the boyfriend, after interacting with City24x7 in a way that PIX11 didn't even know the service was capable of. He called up a map of where he and his girlfriend wanted to go and dragged the map across the screen wherever he pleased, which in this case, was to 114th and Broadway, 102 blocks north of his location, where Tom's Restaurant is.

He then clicked on a different app on the street-level touchscreen and accessed a subway map to figure out how he and his girlfriend could reach their destination.

"It was very easy to find," he told PIX11 News, adding, "[City24x7] was very helpful."

And he paid nothing for the assistance. The service is free of charge. City24x7 hopes to eventually pay for itself through advertising on its screens.

A larger group of the touchscreen information stops are expected to be installed and operational over the holiday season.