Tablets

Professions that would benefit from tablet techology

Jack Wallen believes the opportunity offered by tablet hardware is seriously overlooked. He lists several industries and professions that would benefit from tablet technology.

The world of the tablet is a fascinating one. Here we have this incredible technology (one that we've seen since the ‘90s -- thanks to Star Trek and other sci-fi shows) that's being used for not much more than social interaction, email, and web surfing. Oh sure, there are a select few making better use of these handy tools, but the opportunity offered by tablet hardware is seriously overlooked. So, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to outline industries, jobs, and/or uses for tablets that make such perfect sense, I can't believe we haven't seen them pop up yet!

Medical industry

It always amazes me to see doctors and nurses walking around with clipboards and paper forms that contain patient records and questionnaires. With software available for medical record keeping, as well as outstanding tools for note taking, why aren't we seeing tablets infecting medical practices? What I like about this idea is the ability of the doctor or nurse to not only take notes but also look up patient history and get help with diagnosises. This could be taken even further to allow doctors to automatically upload prescriptions to pharmacies for patients.

Food industry

Why is the food industry still stuck in the ‘50s? Tablets would be a perfect way to modernize the entire system. Instead of servers writing down orders on paper (or trying to remember them), they could carry a tablet and punch in the order to a web-based system, which would then immediately send the order directly to the chef. A system like this would also enable the staff to check out patrons much more quickly and accurately. Although this idea might be a financial challenge for smaller or lower-scale restaurants, more up-scale establishments would do well to take on this challenge. Not only would it make everything more efficient, it would also look really good to the patrons.

Education

Teaching is probably one of the most under-appreciated professions we have. And teachers around the United States are suffering from serious budget cuts and lack of tools to do their jobs. From my perspective, tablets could do teachers a world of good. How? Easy -- grading, communicating to the main office, research, multi-media control, notes, attendance, and more. But tablets could just as easily benefit the students by allowing easier collaboration, web-based testing, and making use of alternative learning methods. Education and tablets should be a no-brainer.

EMTs

Emergency Medical Technicians rely on efficiency, speed, and having information immediately. What better way to enable them to have everything they need to help, schedule, and communicate than giving them tablets? With the right software installed, the EMT could even quickly communicate vitals and other information directly to the target hospital's database, so a patient would be automatically admitted upon arrival. Think of the paperwork and time that would save!

Retail

Imagine being in a store like Target, approaching an employee, asking if they have any more stock of an item, and that employee being able to inform you right then and there that, yes, they do have more of Product X in the back. Wouldn't that be fantastic? But the advantages of retail employees having tablets goes well beyond assisting consumers. Having a tablet in the hand would help make inventory control easier, as well as keeping the employees informed and up to date.

Support technicians

Recently, we had to have a cable technician come out to take care of our crappy high def reception (it's still not fixed, Insight -- after the fourth technician). Then last technician brought at least four different tools in with him. All of those tools could have been replaced by a single tablet (with the addition of proprietary software installed).

Air travel

Here's an interesting fact: The amount of paper the FAA requires for every commercial flight (manuals, pre-flight check lists, etc.) is over twenty-five pounds. Now, there are some airlines testing pilots carrying tablets. But why not extend this to stewards to aid them in taking drink/food orders? Enabling all flight staff to have information at their finger tips makes perfect sense.

Mobile DJs

I good friend of mine is a mobile DJ. He uses his Apple laptop to run music for weddings, but this doesn't allow him to step away from the DJ booth much. Although the weight of the Apple hardware isn't terribly significant, it's not nearly as portable as a tablet. Getting the software necessary to run music on a tablet would be negligible at most. The benefits of having this technology in these types of situations are many. Imagine that bride motioning you to her table and requesting a song that you don't have. With tablet in hand, you can download the song and fire it up instantly. Now, that would bring serious business to the mobile DJ.

There are plenty more fields that could benefit from tablet technology. Can you think of some not mentioned here? Please share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

18 comments
chdchan
chdchan

I sometimes had hassles locating and queueing up to the cashiers in big cantonese restaurants and department stores. If a waiter's or salesperson's tablet can on the spot count my orders, scan my credit card and go through the payment gateway that streamlines the whole process, that would be fabulous.

ghirte
ghirte

I hope the pilot and co-pilot remember to charge their tablet. I would hate to have a flight delayed/cancelled because a tablet was out of power and wouldn't boot.

Ray Baker
Ray Baker

We could use tablets for operators to collect data from various points such as pH, Flow, Pressure, conductivity, etc in the operations of Wastewater treatment, water production, general plant operations and other processes. The same tablet could hold the prints showing the electrical layout of an industrial plant, or as built prints. Also manuals on how to program the level controls, or the ladder logic documentation.

GSG
GSG

There are several reasons. The biggest one is that the healthcare industry lags behind other industries in use of technology. For example, we have applications that require Internet Explorer, but are not compatible with anything beyond IE7, and are ONLY compatible with IE and a Windows OS. For every possible combination of OS, browser, etc... the company has to go through FDA approval before they can place it on the market. By the time they are done, there's a good chance that the technology is already obsolete. Cost is another issue. Our reimbursements are being cut drastically, yet we're being forced to install expensive systems that really aren't needed and don't work any better than the systems we do have. Tablets are also more expensive than a desktop or even some laptops and are easily stolen. Application development is another problem. Most applications aren't developed to work on a tablet. I have a tablet, and we've played around with some of our apps, and it just does not work well. If the app is developed specifically for the tablet, then it should work better. Our local ambulance service uses specialized, uber-rugged tablets that can survive drops, water, etc.... Those have worked very well. As soon as they get here, they electronically transfer the Ambulance trip sheets to us. Before, it would sometimes be weeks before we'd get a copy and it was usually unreadable. So it sounds like a good idea, but until the market shakes out and the Healthcare app vendors develop the apps, test them, send them through the QA process, get FDA approval, and then get HITECH certified for meaningful use (about a 4 year process), then get it sold and implemented in the healthcare setting (it normally takes 2 years to negotiate a contract and install a small system), you are looking at 4-6 years away. After all, if an app for a VP sitting in an office or a meeting somewhere fails, the impact will be minimal. If the app fails in healthcare, then the consequences are much more serious.

JJMach
JJMach

TR did an article a month ago about Disney using iPads to aid their construction projects. http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/hiner/tablets-at-work-disney-uses-ipads-to-drive-construction-project/8939 While I'd move towards something a bit tougher with a bigger screen, the advantages are obvious for architects, engineers, and foremen to replace a giant sheaf of paper drawings with a single tablet filled with electronic drawings that can also be zoomed. A little extra effort on the drafting end to cross-reference the documents (e.g., clicking on a drawing reference on one drawing to immediately bring up the other drawing, like switching from structural to electrical or plumbing) would be great for productivity. If you were to tack on a rugged pico-projector so an engineer in the field could throw the drawing up on the nearest shaded wall, you'd really be in business.

jmparker
jmparker

In my experience we are already a long way towards this. Here in UK Police Officers use tablets as enotebooks and for issuing fixed penalty notices via bvluetooth printers. Missing child info out to all officers in seconds, criminal records checks, ANPR checks and CCTV stills beamed to officers on scene to aid identification. Paramedics using tablets for medical info, recording patient vital signs and transmitting them back to consultants who authorise the administration of drugs! Fire & Rescue teams easy access to building plans, Hazchem data, all over secure wireless connections. Even the smallest restaurants in Spain have waiters using small wireless notebooks to note order that go straight to the kitchen and update the tills. The debate here is probably as much about Operating Systems as devices. iOS, Android even Windows may not be the appropriate system and the development now will be less about the hardware - it's out there and being used - and more about the application development and the seamless, secure exchange of information.

jbroderi
jbroderi

I work in the US Bureau of Land Management and we are look at using for tablets for our people that go out in the field, either assessing the natural resources or, what I am looking at, our inspectors that make sure that the oil and gas, mining, and other industries with operations on Federal lands are following the health, safety, and other guidelines. Much of this is filling out forms, often with dropdown menus. The ability to dock with a keyboard in the vehicle would help when extensive text is needed. Also need to pull up maps with the current location, lease boundaries, etc. (so need gps). Often need to take pictures and link them with the current record and location. There are many other uses such as the already mentioned law enforcement. Our wildland fire crews can also use them. As one might guess, many of our uses will require ruggedized talets.

d_baron
d_baron

I still will not spend more the $99 and I did not get one of those :-)

dexter_2k1
dexter_2k1

We are using tablets for evaluating the professors performance. The students fill a form in the tablets than give us important information about the education process. It's fast, it's easy, and help us a lot in the administration of educational process.

fkieser
fkieser

As a law enforcement officer, I am currently evaluating tablets for use by our department and firmly believe that tablet use is our future. I also agree that software is probably the biggest hurdle facing our profession moving more towards tablets and away from laptops. Cost would be the next factor. Why pay the same price for a tablet when I can spend the same and get a laptop that has needed software. I personally feel the 7" tablet done up with the right software would be the perfect size for law enforcement use. Small enough to carry around and slide into a pocket yet big enough to be able to work with comfortably in a vehicle or on the scene of a call.

sonnystarks
sonnystarks

To further expand the concept, no one will ask when you are ready to order nor have to be kept waiting when you're not. Just access the menu during your transport to the restaurant, pay with your tablet or smartphone and walk in to a preassigned table with hot food already waiting.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

there have been devices available for years that already perform the tasks you listed. Each of these professions resisted using previous devices, such as Palm Pilots, for various reasons. This blog post is just another in a long line of online posts hyping the use scenario of tablet devices.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Food Industry - I saw this in Italy a couple of years ago. The wait staff was equipped with touch-capable wireless devices with integrated card readers, about three times the size of a cell phone. They used them to enter customer orders, swipe payment cards, etc. I remember asking the person to demonstrate the device. I believe the app was off the shelf, but I've CRS'ed the make and model. Education - one school district here has opened a new high school, with new tablets across the board. No 'dead tree' textbooks. Service techs - I had a Sears tech servicing a dryer once. He was equipped with a cellular device that had service manuals and the ability to order parts. This was in 2004. The service field has been exercising these capabilities; tablets are just a new form for something they've been doing. EMTs - unrelated to tablets, but someone should stick a couple of webcams on long cords in the back of ambulances. That way, EMTs could transmit video back to the ER staff. Of course, if I can think of it, someone has probably already done it. Air travel - Once you start equipping the flight crew with these devices, then customers will rightly question the double standard. Why is it unsafe for a passenger to use such a device, but safe for the crew to use the identical system? And a variation on retail - Extend your thoughts to any warehouse / inventory environment. Tablets could replace trips back and forth to a computer to view stock locations, enter newly-shelved stock or items removed from inventory, etc. I suspect what's holding most of these up is the development of applications, not the platform.

TNT
TNT

I agree with your thesis that tablets naturally compliment certain industries. When I worked in health care briefly doctors were already connecting their iPads to hospital systems via Citrix, but full-blown medical record support is still far away. I believe when Windows 8 tablets become available more IT departments will be willing to distribute tablet devices. Its far easier to secure a Windows device on a Windows network. As for the food industry, I agree a tablet would help wait-staff a lot but the expense of the system you propose in a market with already thin profit margins isn't going to happen. In education some schools are testing what you've suggested, but there are many road blocks. Theft for starters, security of data, and of course the likelihood of students playing games or texting on their pad device instead of taking notes. (I worked in a realitively cutting-edge private preparatory school for 2 years and these were the problems we faced.) Other industries I think that would benefit are dock/warehouse workers (for inventory, map to locations of inventory, and checking in/out inventory items), material planners and purchasing agents (both so they can make adjustments or orders while in the field examining a project).

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Be sure you can get some form of data communications. There may be a problem with WiFi or cellular out in the sticks.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

They can describe daily specials, list dishes that meet dietary requirements or contain allergens, provide booster seats, arrange tables for larger parties. If nothing else, someone has to bring to the table that "hot food already waiting" and keep your drinks refilled. Someone has to process your payment; it's not worth having a POS station at every table.

pbear573
pbear573

None of the tablets currently available offer the ability to use very much in terms of external peripherals, and this is where they have their biggest weakness. A camera based barcode scanning app for example has a very high error rate, not to forget that some barcodes are dual end encrypted. Further, NO tablet currently supports any sort of hard key encryption (ie smart card authentication). This big 'utopian' tablets solve all problems mindset is far from reality for many reasons. First, I have yet to see a scenario that could not be accomplished with a standard hand held 'smartphone' size device. It is far less likely to find the floor quickly, and easier to hold onto. I know I would hate having to haul something huge that either needs an additional special case, and is quite cumbersome to hang onto while performing other tasks, when something that easily and already fits in my pocket can do the same thing. Point is, these tablets are nothing more than jumbo smart phones when it comes to capabilities and utility for the most part. They will also never replace PCs, as typing with a physical keyboard is far more accurate and quicker than using a virtual keyboard. Tablets fill a niche that truly was created by the people selling them. The best use I have found for my tablet, watching netflix with a much larger/nicer screen, and as a cheaper way to have MORE wireless allowance for mobile broadband to share with my laptop and netbook.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

Although tablets can be used for the purposes Jack describes, that doesn't mean it makes sense to use them. As has been noted many times, tablets are best used for content consumption, not content creation. Thus, tablets are perfect for storing parts manuals, airport charts, drug information, etc. However, in most cases I can manually search for a document in a file of papers faster than any automated search can do it, if you add in the time to think up search terms and sift through responses containing the term. And I'll bet that most waiters can record a dinner order, along with all the variations and special requests, much more quickly on a notepad than on any tablet. Notepads are also a much easier to hold. As for education, a lack of technology is not a major problem in our schools. Schools need to re-focus on reading with comprehension, writing clearly, logical thinking, and knowledge of science and history. Tablets might assist this effort, but most likely will be a time-wasting distraction for children who will learn on their own how to use the technology.