American Malls Beat Japan in Race for Touchscreen Vending Machines [Updated]

The new technology debuts with a splash in Tokyo–but this time, slick Japan tech followed innovative mall machines in Michigan.

touchscreen vending machines


Everything is more fun when enacted as a video game. Even a a new touchscreen vending machine that debuted yesterday in Tokyo that’s “causing quite a stir,” writes Sam Dunne of Core77, “as, one-by-one, bashful salarymen plucked up the courage to go and put the machine through its paces for the benefit of the gawking crowds.” Why be bothered with that tiresome pressing of letters and numbers (Sprite … E7), when you can press a luminescent avatar of the soda you crave? And then, if Dunne’s photographs are to be believed, be thanked by a smiling anthropomorphized avatar of the very machine you just interacted with?

We are accustomed in this country to being scooped by the Japanese on faddish technology. But it seems, actually, that U.S. malls may have beaten the Japanese on this one. The Briarwood Mall of Ann Arbor, MI, has a Coca-Cola touchscreen vending machine of its own. In fact it seems likely that this is one of many U.S. malls owned by the Simon mall chain that may have similar machines. In fact, as much was promised by Samsung and Coke at the 2009 International CES trade show. Back then, it was reported that the machines were even equipped with Wi-Fi to order replenishments. Why the machines have had such a soft, and quiet, launch, is something of a mystery.

For our money, the real innovation needed in vending machinery was to put an end to all those stuck beverages and candy bars. But it appears Samsung’s most aggressive response to that problem has been to install motion sensors that warn any frustrated customers who might try to rattle the machine.

UPDATE: Simon Malls confirms that the Samsung machines are something of a commonplace in their malls; a Simon document shows that the plan was to have 150 of them by September of 2009. And the Chinese also were ahead of the Japanese on this one: some of the machines were featured at the Beijing Olympics.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.