Tablets like Apple's iPad 2 and Motorola's Xoom may be causing paroxysms of excitement among the world's consumers, but many businesses are still trying to figure out where such devices will fit into their computing platforms.
Best Buy, for instance, has been in the news this week for reports that it was planning to give an iPad to each member of its sales force, but it quickly toned down such rumors. The latest, according to reports, is that the retail giant is considering not only Apple's original iPad device but also the Xoom and Samsung's Galaxy Tab as sales tools for potential use by salespeople on the floor.
There's no doubt that businesses are finding productive and creative ways to use tablets. I took a quick tour through some of the related reports out there to get a sense of how, exactly, organizations have put tablets to work so far. Here's a small sampling of what I found.
1. Ordering Meals at the Airport
In partnership with Delta Air Lines, airport restaurateur OTG Management recently launched an initiative to install more than 200 iPads at New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA) Airports. Visitors to select gates at the airports can now use a custom application on the iPads installed there to order meals from participating airport restaurants, and OTG servers deliver the food to them within 10 minutes. Other applications on the iPads allow guests to check flights, read articles, play games and more.
2. Business Intelligence
SAP AG has already deployed 3,500 Apple iPads as a way to provide executives with real-time access to vital business intelligence data. Now, it's planning to incorporate the iPad 2 as well, tapping the device's cameras for mobile videoconferencing, in particular. SAP will also reportedly embrace the forthcoming BlackBerry PlayBook for its ability to be tethered to existing BlackBerry smartphones.
3. Equipping Concierges
Similar to Best Buy's planned use of tablets for salespeople on the floor, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts began equipping its concierge teams with Apple iPads last year. Enhanced local destination advice was at least one benefit the hotel expected to be able to deliver through the new devices. So pleased was InterContinental with the iPad for its concierges, in fact, that late last year it launched an iPad app to deliver the same kind of "insider-only" information about local destinations to consumers as well.
4. Selling Cars
After a successful pilot program in 40 U.S. showrooms, Mercedes-Benz announced last fall that it would distribute iPads to all of its 355 dealerships in the United States. Loan applications and other paperwork involved in the sales and leasing processes can now be completed by salespeople right next to customers on the sales floor.
5. In-Flight Entertainment
Bluebox Avionics recently launched its Bluebox Ai in-flight entertainment system on Apple's iPad. Using the new system, iPads can replace traditional seatback screens as a delivery device for audio and video content as well as games and e-books. On airlines with in-flight Wi-Fi, downloads are possible as well. Australian airline Jetstar is reportedly working with Bluebox to implement an iPad-based in-flight entertainment system on its aircraft.
6. Medical Sales
Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic and Boston Scientific are all among the medical supply firms that are equipping their sales people with iPads, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. Improved presentations to doctors are apparently the primary use for such devices in this arena.
More than 65 percent of the Fortune 100 have deployed or piloted Apple's iPad since its debut, the Wall Street Journal reports, and similar plans are surely in the works involving competing devices as well. Is your company using a tablet for business?
Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk .