Last Friday, I was going to travel to Oxford by express coach, but there had been a road traffic accident which had caused delays to the normally frequent service. After standing in a very long queue at Marble Arch for 10 minutes, and seeing one full coach go past, I decided to catch the train from Paddington instead.
The earliest "off peak" train was at 19:17 hrs and I was intrigued to see on the display boards "TV Entertainment in coach D". Fearing having to watch a football match for the whole journey, I boarded the train just after coach F, expecting that to be coach E. But no, it was coach D. Rather than some sort of large screen at the end of the carriage, I was surprised to see airline-style back-of-seat type displays, and sat down before the rest of the crowd arrived.
I thought a description of the user interface might be of interest to some readers of this blog, especially considering that apart from headset jacks, a screen power button, volume and brightness controls, all interaction is using the touch screen. The interface constraints, need to allow for train vibration and use by untrained public users affect what's possible.
The video on-demand in-train entertainment system is provided by Volo who suggest on their website the mobile payments are integrated by RingGo. I had a look at the safety video which had stop, start and pause buttons available like a conventional media player. The "try me" button let you navigate the juke-box of television shows categorised by genre. The interface felt like "CD multi-media" rather than "web browser". After a while the nag dialogue box popped up in a couple of permutations.
The adjacent passenger seemed to want to go further, but without a valid payment code, their attempt to "log in" was rejected.
The code entry field indicated the required format with underscores and hyphens once touched, and a backspace key appeared once the first character was entered. It did not seem to be possible to enter longer codes than required.
Entry of an invalid "login" code, led to a 20s delay (see countdown timer bottom right) before another attempt could be made, but there did not seem to be any limit on the number of attempts allowed. It is possible the payment code activation period is time limited as well as being for a fixed duration, and they might even be train-specific. Therefore the 20s delay could have been deemed sufficient to protect against guessing unused codes (brute force attack). I would be intrigued to see the risk assessment for the system. The codes could theoretically be tied to seat numbers, but the "special offer" at the cafe didn't seem to suggest you needed to know your own seat number, and that might put off people going for a day's duration to cover their outward and return journeys.
Presumably codes are issued in real time, rather than from prepared lists, so the system will rely upon a semi-continuous communication connection. But it is nice to know if you have a problem, they have "controllers" rather than "helpdesk staff". The code entry screen also reverted back to the main welcome screen after 60s of inactivity.
Without logging in, not much else seemed to be available to the adjacent passenger, but they did manage to get another slightly amusingly worded message screen when randomly tapping on the screen just after starting to watch the safety video once more.
So some interesting constraints on authentication and access control to deal with. Spelling aside, the resolution and related font size does make some screens a little cramped. Having an on-screen keyboard which is only numerical plus A-F does feel a bit techie, and maybe old-fashioned when people are used to much greater flexibility with touch devices. It might indicate the range of values for each code character, and thus reveal something about how it is generated? The touch screen appears to be the only method of user input—perhaps no other way to increase accessibility. Will it be a success? Hard to tell, but very few early-evening commuters seemed to be interested—many had smartphones, game consoles, netbooks, laptops and e-readers to hand, or were asleep.
Perhaps that is why there apparently weren't any power sockets available at the seats.
On the short journey, maybe passengers would be more tempted by live news, travel and weather, or even web browsing if mobile reception was poor, rather than old television shows. But on longer routes it will have greater appeal.