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iPads Make Great Kiosks: A Case Study

Earlier this year, we set out on a journey to create a new ministry at Long Hollow that would connect people with biblical resources for every day problems. After visiting some similar ministry centers, we decided to convert a small space at our Hendersonville campus into a place people could come to get advice, book recommendations and other great resources.

After months of hard work, HomeLink was born. Here’s how we pulled it off (with a little help from the iPad)…

Paperless is the Way to Go

…and it’s quite a bit cheaper in the long run! When we first embarked on the HomeLink project, the idea was to build a new resource center on campus containing dozens of magazine racks with resource sheets for every life stage and topic. However, if you’ve managed a paper environment for any period of time, you know how quickly the waste piles up; typos are found, information changes and hundreds of print pieces are thrown out every week (or every day, depending on how quickly things change).

It didn’t take long for us to choose a different route. After some discussion, we decided to build our new ministry center around an iPad-based app where visitors could explore, print and email a wealth of resources at their leisure. It’s much easier to manage than a paper environment, and it’s surprisingly cost effective in the long run; we were able to pick up a handful of refurbished iPad’s and a nice AirPrint laser printer for just over $2000.

 

The result is a high tech environment that’s easy to use, and even easier for us to maintain (more on that in my last point below). Check out the 360 degree view of our HomeLink Center, which opened to the public the first Sunday of September.

You Probably Already Know How to Build an App

At the heart of the HomeLink Center is the HomeLink iPad web app (be sure to check out the brief demo above). Although the thought of coding a native iPad/iPhone app may make you sweat in your sleep, you would be surprised at what you can build with the web tools and skills that you’re already familiar with.

Everything you see in the video above is just simple HTML, CSS and the jQuery JavaScript framework. To bring it all together, we used the awesome Kiosk Pro App; it’s basically a locked down version of Safari that you can customize in dozens of ways to create an app-like experience.

After a few weeks of intensive UI tweaking, I think we ended up with a web app that looks nice and is easily understood by our visitors.

Making Things Easy to Manage

homelink_app

The final piece of the puzzle was to make this whole setup easy to update for our ministry staff. To do this, I built a quick CMS where our growth and discipleship team can upload, delete and categorize all of the resources we make available through the HomeLink Center and the HomeLink portion of our website. Our staff simply logs in, clicks on the name of any resource, and they can upload a new PDF or modify categories within a matter of seconds.

To fix a typo in a paper environment, we would have to remove all of the old resource sheets, modify the template and go print dozens more copies to put back on the shelf the next day. In HomeLink, we can generally fix the typo and update the app before the visitor who noticed the typo has even left the room. It helps us to work smarter, not harder.

So that’s HomeLink! If you’re ever at our Hendersonville Campus, be sure to stop by and check it out (let me know if you’re coming; i’d be happy to give you a tour). Have you used iPads in creative ways at your ministry? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Ben Stroup (Reply) on September 6th, 2011

    This is great work. You are absolutely brilliant!

  2. Eric Granata (Reply) on September 6th, 2011

    Your hustle is strong. Fantastic work and the space you guys have created looks cozy!

  3. Eric Murrell (Reply) on September 6th, 2011

    Thanks, guys.

    Eric: It smells cozy, too; we’re going for a Disney-style nasal assault by pumping in some smells like fresh baked cookies to make it feel more like home.

  4. David Carroll (Reply) on September 6th, 2011

    We’re getting lots of demand for iPads for Check-in. (I think a lot of it is that everybody is looking for a way to get the church to buy them one :-) Our Small Group attendance apps are very popular. This looks nice.

    Airprint is still not a good story for Label printers however. The only thing I can come up with is having another “real” computer with USB ports and a printer driver polling the server for print jobs from the iPad. And then, you have to deal with knowing which labels go with which kiosk meaning the printers would have to be “manned” by a volunteer.

    We’ll come up with something. I really like the idea of using HTML and avoiding the whole iOS / Objective C code thing.

  5. Dustin (Reply) on September 23rd, 2011

    I built a sign up kiosk but was left managing it all myself (besides making the wufoo forms). How did you build out the CMS? that is genius idea.
    We also want to do something very similar to Homelink. Can you share any other secrets?
    Our core webapp is http://jqtouch.com/ and tweaked the UI when we were happy with it.

  6. Gus (Reply) on October 1st, 2011

    @David – Zebra has an api that works with the ipad. I am just waiting for someone to figure it out with their app so I can use it for check-in at my church.

  7. Gus (Reply) on October 1st, 2011

    @David – Zebra has an api that works with the ipad. I am just waiting for someone to figure it out with their app so I can use it for check-in at my church.

  8. Robert Larson (Reply) on November 2nd, 2011

    David’s on the right track. If you had your app make a call to an inhouse webservice you could manage the printers that way. Think about it this way –> the printers are either connected to a network either directly or to another computer. This computer or server then knows about the location of the printer via a network ID. Just have your webservice accept the params to build out the name tag and the printer ID. I do realize this would be hard to implement with purchased software, but if you have custom check in you should be able to add a config that says printers attached to this device are 1,2,etc… Then the server sends the commands (ZPL, etc…) to it as they come off the queue. I know this comes off as vague, but I’m reviewing this architecture currently for some other ideas. I could see how it could be used in this check in scenario.

  9. Josh Jensen (Reply) on December 4th, 2011

    I love the setup of the room and the iPad’s. What did you all use for the mounted iPad holders?

    Also I did not see this mentioned but AirPrint Activator – http://netputing.com/airprintactivator/ is a very slick piece of software. I would think using that you could print to the label printer you want.

    Thanks for the post, it is very inspirational.

    -Josh


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