Back in the summer of 2007, I wrote a report called “Taking In-Person Self-Service From Blah To Brilliant.” Here’s an excerpt: “Speaking of steel-enclosed stale fruitcakes, there's been a dearth of evolution — let alone revolution — in kiosk fixture design. Forrester has attended semi-annual kiosk industry conferences since 2005, and the only thing staler than the kiosks’ designs have been the bagels.”

In addition to boring kiosk enclosures, my research from the time found kiosk software riddled with usability problems — like missing content, confusing language, bad grammar, inappropriate pacing, and weak and annoying feedback — in industries as varied as retail, financial services, and transportation.

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then. Until last week.

With the launch of the Apple Store 2.0, Apple ushered in a new era of in-store self-service. In my post about the news, I suggested that this might mark Apple’s entry into an in-store customer experience platform: “For years, Apple employees have had the seemingly magical ability to check customers out from anywhere in the store. Now, with the addition of relatively cheap interactive signage and employee paging, Apple is positioned to sell a more complete in-store customer experience solution to companies ranging from independent boutique owners to multinational banks.”

Over the past week, my thoughts have kept returning to the implications a move like this would have on the kiosk industry. In 2005, it was clear to me that kiosk software developers didn’t have a good grasp on user-centered design best practices. They skipped upfront research, failed to consider users during the development process, and confused usability evaluation techniques. Need me to back up those accusations? Here’s a quote from one kiosk software developer I spoke with back then: “Well, I really just figure out what I like and what works for me. Then I think about what my mom and my dad would need. Sometimes I'll mention a project to them in passing and get their feedback.”

Has that changed? Have kiosk software developers upped their design game? If not, they’re going to have their lunches eaten by hungry startups that are already well versed in designing for the iPad.

As for the hardware vendors, unless buyers need specialized hardware functionality (like ticket printing) that’s not (currently) supported by Apple, there will be little reason for them to choose a traditional kiosk box over a beautiful, cheap, and multifunctional iPad.

Here’s hoping Apple ignites a strong design focus in the kiosk industry!