Technology

Tablets: Government's Newest Tool

From mayors to police departments to high schools, tablet computers are changing the way government works.
by | March 2011
 

The New York Times proclaimed that 2010 would be the “Year of the Tablet.” In retrospect, it was more like the “Year of the iPad,” as Apple’s category-killer dominated the scene, forcing competitors to table or delay the launch of their own tablet products.

But it’s not just gadget enthusiasts who have snatched up the more than 14.8 million iPads sold since Apple debuted the 1.5-pound slate last April. The iPad is already making an outsized impact in state and local governments, with everyone from mayors and police departments to schools and legislatures adopting the tech tool for everyday use.

In January, the Virginia General Assembly piloted a project to adopt the device. The state House’s IT department handed it out to 15 delegates, while the state Senate’s General Laws and Technology Committee got 15 iPads as well. The ultimate goal of the pilot is to cut down on paper usage. A few years ago, Virginia lawmakers were given laptops in a similar effort to wean them off lugging around large, printed books of bills. It didn’t work. But state tech officials say they’ve been encouraged by early iPad feedback from even the most technophobic state representatives and senators.

More and more, iPads are turning up in the hands of tech-savvy public servants -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several cabinet members use it to monitor city data and take notes at meetings. But cities and states increasingly are incorporating tablet computers for official uses, including education and crime fighting.

The tablet trend is only going to increase this year, as more competitors enter the market. More than 24 million tablet computers are projected to be sold in the U.S. this year, according to Forrester Research.

iPads in Action

1. The Williamsburg, Va., City Council adopted iPads to eliminate paper and enhance e-mail and Web access for councilmembers.

2. Roslyn High School on Long Island, N.Y., handed out 47 iPads to students to replace textbooks, allowing them to correspond with teachers, turn in papers and homework assignments, and preserve a record of their work in digital portfolios.

3. Prosecutors in Cameron County, Texas, plan to use iPads to examine potential jurors’ Facebook profiles during the selection process to get a better picture of who may be deciding the outcome of trials.

4. Law enforcement departments in two Tennessee counties purchased iPads for police officers to draw sketches and record testimony on crime scenes, file police reports and investigate background information without calling dispatch.

5. The Texas Department of Information Resources is testing the device in a number of ways, including to see whether iPads could fully replace employees’ laptop computers.

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