Tech Tuesday

New Computing Tech - Toy or Tool?

You've heard about the iPad. Is it technology you could put to use on the farm?

I am writing this column on a tablet computer - the Apple iPad to be exact. The experience is not as smooth as it might on a traditional keyboard but given its small size and with a little practice it would be possible for me to write on an airplane again and for long flights that would be a great thing.

The key is that the device has a quick boot up time and that makes it very convenient to get started on any project. In addition the predictive typing tool is the same as the iPhone, which is very familiar to a regular phone user. The average farmer, however does not have much need to be writing on airplanes, so what's the value of a tablet computer?

Turns out that this is a great email and Web device that's simple to use. In addition, it can be loaded with "applications" just like a lot of smart phones offering you more options for using it for special uses - like reading a favorite newspaper or catching up on a specific hobby. Many of those "apps" add to the productivity of the device and for many people a simple e-mail and Web appliance may enough for most computer use.

This is not an endorsement of the iPad, but instead it is an acknowledgment of a new class of devices that could change the way you engage the Web and e-mail. There are a range of tablets that you will have the chance to choose from by the Christmas buying season. And many of those new devices will have Web access over a cellular network (the iPad gets that next week when it's 3G version starts shipping). As usual that network should by chosen for the coverage in your area first.

The tablet won't replace your trusty laptop or desktop machine anytime soon. While it might be worthwhile device for catching up on e-mail - while lounging in your favorite chair (if you have a wi-fi network on your farm - or 3G capability) - it won't do the books or run the business. It can, however, be a connection device. It can be an e-book (the Kindle application works just fine on the iPad); it's great for checking e-mail; and you can keep up with the Wall Street Journal and other publications through e-subscriptions. It's a new type of communication device that offers advantages over traditional computers for some key uses - and more are being developed.

This column is as much about "what's to come" as "what you're using now" and if you're curious about the iPad - and tablet computers in general - we thought we could answer a few questions. Of course, while I started this column on the iPad I am finishing it up on my traditional laptop, there are still some issues to work out.

Going forward, as computer technology advances, and operating systems change, you're going to have more ways to get work done remotely. A tablet computer would be enough for simpler tasks, but for now a cellular-enabled netbook is probably the better choice for a lot of uses.

I'll keep experimenting with the iPad, and look at the other tablets as they start to move to market later this year. Whether they make sense for you is a personal matter - but these are tools with potential for specific applications. If you have questions about this technology, let me know at [email protected].

I'll be happy to find you an answer.

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