There are many reasons to use kiosk mode on a device — everything from self-ordering systems to digital signage, mobile point-of-sale systems, and more are ideal situations for kiosks. Using a platform like Android, you can enable kiosk mode to lock down kiosks to stop end users from exiting the kiosk app or accessing the device settings. But what is the difference between “kiosk mode” and “kiosk software”?

Kiosk mode is a configuration state that locks down a device used as a kiosk. Kiosk software is an application or service that, among other things, can enable kiosk mode on a device. Many devices support kiosk mode at the OS level, but it’s often very basic, so kiosk software is preferred for its power and versatility on dedicated devices, especially in enterprise settings. The most effective way to implement kiosk software is with a dedicated device platform that deploys and manages your fleet of kiosks. 

 To enable kiosk mode on Android devices running versions 5.0 or greater, app pinning can be used, and for Android devices running 6.0 or newer, there’s the lock task mode. But with kiosk software, you have far more control at the OS level, protecting your kiosks from tampering and intrusion. And crucially, you can apply these settings and behaviors to large groups of kiosks at once, enforcing policy compliance across multiple locations with centralized management. Good kiosk software can even let you update the content and apps on your kiosks, troubleshoot, or debug over the air with no user intervention needed.

What is kiosk mode?

Kiosk Mode is a configuration state that locks down a device to a single app, preventing personal use by employees or customers. You can use kiosk mode on smartphones, tablets, and other touch-enabled devices (which frequently run Android). Kiosk mode prevents users from running anything the device administrator does not enable. On Android, kiosk mode blocks user access to:

  • Apps from Google Play apps and private apps
  • Device settings
  • Device features

Android devices that are locked to kiosk mode may use peripheral devices to create a self-serve user experience. An Android tablet locked to a mobile point-of-sale (mPoS) application may be combined with a card reader and printer peripherals. 

Common examples of enterprise dedicated devices that operate in Android kiosk mode include:

  • Touchscreens for ordering menu items at restaurants
  • Ticketing and baggage tag kiosks at airports
  • Interactive seating charts used by front-of-house host staff at restaurants
  • Store directories and maps at large retail shopping centers
  • Self-serve payment kiosks for purchasing products or services
Source: Zephyr_p/Shutterstock.com

Not all kiosk modes are the same, you also need to understand the difference between Single App Kiosk Mode (screen pinning) and Multi-App Kiosk Mode. In single app mode, one application runs at launch and stays up as long as the device is powered on. This app can’t be bypassed or changed by the end-user, even if the device is reset. Multi-app kiosk mode offers the user access to apps chosen by the kiosk owner. Instead of a single app being locked on the screen at all times, multi-app kiosks have a “launcher” interface where the user may select the application they wish to run. System settings and any unauthorized apps, however, remain restricted.

What settings does kiosk mode control?

Specific configurations can vary, but almost every kiosk mode limits user access to apps, status bar, and device settings. If single app kiosk mode is enabled, the user will be limited to running one app at all times. If multi-app kiosk mode is enabled, they will be able to run apps only from a specific selection.

Generally, when kiosk mode is enabled on Android, there are three things you want to know: sleep status can be completely configured, apps will be forced into full screen mode (regardless of whether it’s a single app or in multi-app mode), and kiosk mode will launch on boot. While you can work to make sure this all happens manually, proper kiosk software makes this step automatic.

In kiosk mode, by default users can’t exit any kiosk mode apps, modify settings, view any stored data on the device, or make or receive phones calls or send text messages. On devices running Android 8.0 or below, kiosk mode also blocks the status bar and notifications, but Android versions 9.0 and above allow selective enabling of the status bar in kiosk mode when it makes sense for the use case. Many customers want status bar visibility in kiosk mode to view battery percentage and WiFi connection without exiting kiosk mode, for example.

What is kiosk software?

Kiosk software is a category of products and services that enable enterprises to lock devices to kiosk mode configurations and apps at scale with enrollment, management, and monitoring capabilities. Kiosk software streamlines configuring Android smartphones, tablets, and other devices to serve as single-purpose enterprise kiosk devices. 

According to Capterra, Kiosk Software or Kiosk Lockdown Software is generally defined by:

  • Ability to customize the kiosk end-user interface
  • Features to control and manage user sessions
  • Remote kiosk access and monitoring capabilities
  • Kiosk usage tracking and analytics

Kiosk software is often provided by some type of MDM (mobile device management) service, though this isn’t always the case. It’s also worth noting that not all kiosk software is created equal, and some may be missing key features required for specific uses. That’s where Esper is different — we offer a full-stack, fully configurable, robust kios management system.

Kiosk Software vs. Kiosk Apps 

Kiosk software is not the same as a Kiosk app. “Kiosk app” can describe any enterprise app designed to run in full-screen mode, including mobile Point of Sale (mPoS) apps, digital menu apps, and integrated restaurant apps. While these apps may be exclusively designed for kiosk mode devices, they generally lack support to configure enterprise devices to run in kiosk mode. A similar analogy would be running a browser as compared to building a website: You can browse the web with Google Chrome, but Google Chrome isn’t a tool for managing and building a website. Similarly, a kiosk app runs on a kiosk device, but it has nothing to do with deploying and managing a fleet of kiosk devices – that’s the role of kiosk software.

Which should you choose: Standalone kiosk mode vs kiosk software

As we’ve established, kiosk mode locks a device to a dedicated use. For the simplest uses, Android’s built-in app pining or task lock modes might fit the bill, but for anything aside from the most basic use cases, kiosk software is the better option. It’s far more powerful, offer improved device security, and in some cases, allows fleet managers to remotely access and update kiosk devices.