10 Traditional Industries Transformed By Tablets

From down on the farm to the undersea world, no place is safe from the encroachment of the tablet.

Not THOSE kinds of tablets

The tablet (OK, we're not talking about the kind pictured) has done a lot to change the world in the few short years since the iPad was introduced. In the process of fitting into a thousand different niches, the tablet form factor has transformed a host of traditional industries -- including some of jobs human beings have been doing since the dawn of civilization.

He\'s got more time to play Angry Birds now, we guess
REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

When now-retired Pope Benedict Tweeted from an iPad last year, the juxtaposition of the ancient church and modern tech was too intriguing for the media to ignore. But less famous clergy have been using tablets in their ministry for some time now. This list of iPad apps for pastors includes secular favorites like Dropbox and Zite along with YouVersion, "the best bible app out there."

Like FarmVille, but with a real famr

The transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture is the foundation of human civilization, but that doesn't mean farmers are stuck in the past: the inside of a modern tractor cab looks like a spaceship from a sci-fi movie and helps realize the promise of the "Future Farmers of America" organization's name. FieldView is an iPad app that hooks into other agricultural sensors in order to help farmers get real-time data about what their tractors are leaving behind them.

Municipal garbage services are the main reason why city dwellers no longer live in Dickensian filth, and waste management hasn't been left behind by the advance of tablets. New garbage collection apps might worry people behind on their fees, though, because they let trash haulers know who's paid and who hasn't, as this video smugly demonstrates. Still, tech advances aren't all smooth: one municipality hit a crisis when a carrier update to Android Gingerbread caused the in-truck tablets to rapidly use up battery life.

If it's good enough for garbagemen, why wouldn't it be good enough for cops? The mobile software industry is furiously marketing tablet apps to police departments, with the obvious benefits of getting updates from HQ, seeing the locations of incoming 911 calls from citizens, and just generally not getting lost. We are charmed by the informercial-quality video for PolicePad seen here, though we worry at the image of cops walking around looking at their iPad instead of their surroundings.

When you think of the construction trade, you think of burly men using muscle and sweat to put together buildings, the same way they've done it for decades. But keeping track of which of the hundreds of small tasks on the job site have been completed, so they can be marked off the so-called "punch list," has always been one of contracting's gnarliest problems. Newforma, the app demo'd in this video, is one of the most prominent to tackle this challenge, but there are a host of competitors (as well as a host of ways to accidentally smash a tablet with a hammer on site).

The smell of sweet sweet nerdiness

For decades, the comic book industry has revolved around racks of paper books in speciality stores. But now, perhaps alone among the major publishing segments, comics are moving aggressively and deliberately into tablets. With apps like Comixology for major publishers and Comic Chameleon for digital independents, the comics business isn't fighting the tablet revolution -- and, most shockingly, is cutting creators into the profits from the start.

Tell the iPad where it hurts

In many ways the medical profession has been particularly resistant to high-tech, but in tablet computers, doctors have at last found technology that they love, with its combination of portability, long battery life, and ease of use. Most doctors love their iPads specifically, turning many hospitals into Apple shops through bottom-up BYOD. Still, that hasn't stopped other platforms from making a go.

Squares + rectangles = $$$

The gentle chunk-chunk of a mechanical credit-card reader long ago vanished in most stores, where vendors could hook up to a phone line and instantly verify customer cards. But the noise persisted for years outdoors, at craft fair booths and in food trucks. The final nail in the coffin came from Square, a service that turns your tablet (or phone) into a credit card reader and prevents people from buying that hot dog from a cart with an overdrawn card.

Seems legit

OK, this item is more hopeful than anything else. Last year Martin Reisch crossed the border from Canada into the U.S. using, he claims, just his driver's license and a scan of his passport on his iPad. While U.S. customs has huffily stated that iPad-based ID is not an acceptable border-crossing document, we can hopefully dream of the day when the devices we carry around everywhere will also double as our tickets through various bureaucratic roadblocks to world travel.

Humans and dolphins have interacted since the days of ancient Greece. But could tablet tech help us actually communicate with them? A few years back, the Merlin Project trumpeted its use of iPads as a tool for bridging the human-cetacean divide. And yet, only a few months later, the project put out the video seen here, in which Merlin appears to endorse a rival and slightly older tech platform! We guess tablets aren't the be-all and end-all, unless Merlin's having words put in his beak.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.