What are tablets good for? News reporting, for one

A few months back, I talked with some early enterprise iPad adopters who said that while they liked the new tablet computers, they weren't initially sure what to do with them.

The problem is that tablets fit somewhere in between the realm of smartphones and PCs -- they're cool and fun to play around with but it's tough to imagine some glaring need they fill in the workplace. Phil Getchell, IT director at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, told me he deployed iPads to help the MFA's sales department manage membership lists and sales, but also added that no employees had their iPads assigned as primary devices. Sharon Murphy, the senior vice president and managing director at Wells Fargo, said her company spent most of last year experimenting with iPads to learn their strengths and weaknesses.

ANALYSIS: Finding a place for iPads

The upside to having no clear need to fill is that it lets tablet adopters experiment with performing different tasks that they otherwise might not have been able to perform with their PC or smartphone. This week, for example, I brought my BlackBerry PlayBook with me to MIT's CIO Symposium and used it to quickly and easily record video from the various panels and lectures.

The reason the tablet form factor hit a sweet spot for me as a reporter's aid is that it combined portability, ease of use and high-quality video recording to make my life much easier than it was during previous attempts to film events with Web cameras. Think of it like this: In the old days, if reporters wanted to record video they'd have to hold a camera in place and then upload their video onto their laptop and then further upload it onto YouTube. The tablet cuts out the middle man by letting me point-and-click and then upload my recording directly onto YouTube. My first effort of taping with a tablet is displayed below:

Another advantage of tablets-as-video-recorders is their large screen size -- so instead of peeking through a tiny little lens to focus on your subjects, you get to see them fit neatly onto your screen. This means that when you're interviewing people it's easy to check if your camera is still focused on them if they start moving around. The touchscreen interface on the tablet makes it remarkably simple to start and stop recording.

Even if you don't like using lots of video in your articles, a tablet recording is incredibly useful for tech conferences. Even though I've been a tech reporter for four years now, I still go to many panels featuring acronyms and terminology that I have never heard before. But having a tablet recording the talk ensures that I don't have to spend too much time scrambling to look up terminology and can instead reference my video while I'm typing up my article later on. And having a video recording of a panel discussion is vastly better than a straight audio recording since on a video you can actually see who is speaking at any given time.

I guess the bottom line is that the tablet's portability, ease of use and attractive display give it plenty of uses for people in a variety of different professions. For instance you can imagine a doctor recording a video of a patient on a tablet and instantly uploading it to a central hospital database for other physicians to examine. Or perhaps you're an interior designer and you want to have pictures of your past work scanned into your tablet as a sort of "virtual portfolio" to show prospective clients. So if you're an IT department head and are skeptical of tablets' virtues, I'd recommend buying two or three to deploy to select workers in your company. The message you should give them is, "Have fun and try to get some work done with these things while you're at it."

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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