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by Michael J. Shapiro | May 01, 2010
On Jan. 27, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had the world -- or at least the geekier half of it -- blogging and tweeting about the unveiling of Apple's newest highly anticipated product. And while much of that chatter revolved around the name itself -- "iPad" prompted some mixed responses -- plenty of people joined the discussion of the gadget's merits. Would the iPad be a game changer? Would it be as "magical" as Jobs claimed?

Apple's iPad, which first hit store shelves in early April, is the highest profile version of what should be at least a handful of tablet computers to be released this year. The iPad looks just like an iPhone, only bigger: it has a 9.7-inch LED-backlit multitouch display, is just a half-inch thick, and weighs a pound and a half. It functions like an iPhone as well, but without the phone: The iPad runs the same operating system, and as such will run about 150,000 apps from Apple's App Store. (Because of the display size difference, apps built for the iPhone may be run at twice their normal size on the iPad.) The first iPads to ship are equipped with Wi-Fi, and by the end of the month units with both Wi-Fi and 3G (data-only) cellular capabilities are slated to ship.

The iPad is meant to straddle the void -- whether or not you've considered that one exists -- between laptop computers and smart phones. Its size makes type easier to read than on a phone and multimedia files easier to view. And its format makes it easier to use on the go than a laptop. It's also a high-resolution, full-color e-reader, on which one can read a growing catalog of books, newspapers and magazines.

Those basic characteristics apply not only to the iPad, but to a variety of tablet computers expected to hit the market. Hewlett-Packard and Dell both have models in the pipeline. Microsoft is developing a product called the Courier, which is rumored to open like a small notebook to reveal dual 7-inch displays. A German company, Neofonie, announced a product called the WePad that runs Google Android apps and, unlike the iPad, runs Adobe Flash and has built-in USB ports, a 1.3-megapixel webcam and a card reader.

But beyond the hype and the comparison of technical specs, just what will these products do for the meetings industry? Delivering information to attendees via such devices could mean a world of possibilities, particularly in efforts to go paperless. Conference programs, maps, seminar presentations, research and publications all could be easily viewed and consulted during events. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. M&C spoke with a variety of tech-savvy thinkers in the meetings industry to gauge their reactions to and expectations for the iPad and its ilk.

> "Whether this first version of the iPad has an impact, I don't know, but as it evolves, this new class of tablet-sized computers will absolutely transform meetings, because they solve a real problem. There is vast value in the information and communication tools available from computers, but at meetings they're mostly unavailable because we don't have a convenient way to access them. Laptop computers require a lap, which rules out their use at most trade show and networking events. Mobile phones, including the iPhone, are so small that it's like trying to run a construction project by peeking through a knothole in the fence. These ultra-mobile, tablet-style computers will unlock interactivity at conferences in a way we've only dreamed of. Instead of having to choose between being ‘heads down' in a laptop or ‘heads up' on the people and activity around, attendees will be able to be ‘heads up' and ‘jacked in.' Their interaction with the event will be augmented by the information that can flow to them online."
-- Jordan Schwartz, CEO, Pathable Inc.

> "Tablets will make it easier to interact using tools like Twitter simply because they are easier to type on than a smart phone and lighter to carry than a laptop. I think the iPad might be a decent tool overall, but the price point [$499 to $829, based on capacity and cellular capabilities] needs to drop. Most people cannot afford an iPhone, a laptop and another device. And who wants to travel with so many devices? I imagine there will be earlier adoption for meetings in the technology arena than in some other areas. I think that most people who do purchase the device will use the Wi-Fi option; this will then emphasize the need for meeting venues to provide free Internet access to attendees. If iPads can go through airport security without needing to be taken out like laptops, that might increase their use for frequent travelers. It could be a great tool for planners to access information quickly on-site without dragging a laptop around. I also think about how the iPad can be used to connect to projectors for presentations. If I am a speaker and could carry my iPad instead of a laptop, that would be great. I often make last-minute changes to a presentation."
-- Jessica Levin, CMP, manager of communications and member services, Moore Stephens North America Inc.

> "The iPad by itself won't have any impact on the meetings industry. The biggest impacts come when you can rely on a majority of attendees to adopt a technology. For example, online registration had a big impact because all attendees now have web access. At best, only a few attendees will have iPads or a few organizations will provide iPads. However, the iPad is part of a trend toward attendees carrying more powerful mobile devices to conferences. That makes possible a reduction in printed materials and facilitates audience response and real-time messaging. Very few conferences or conference software vendors are going to have the bandwidth to target multiple mobile platforms. In order to reach a critical mass of attendees, they will stick with a common platform, and right now that common platform is mobile-optimized websites."
-- Tony Stubblebine, founder/CEO, CrowdVine

> "Likely the most immediate impact of the iPad will be felt in conferences and trade shows; instead of just making an app for your show, you can make the whole guide available for easy download. You'll be able to use the power of the platform to better integrate multimedia. And attendees can use this to navigate the show floor, using maps and GPS. How you get iPads into your attendees' or employees' hands will depend on your objectives. I'm really excited about seeing just how we will use it."
-- Samuel J. Smith, event technology consultant/digital strategist


Web ExclusiveFor more thoughts on the iPad's impact, see mcmag.com/webexclusives.