News Column

Tablet Boosts Business and School Productivity

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Delivering food to the table or pouring a cup of coffee is about the only thing it can't do.

The iPad takes an order, sends it to the chef and lets the waiter know when it's done at the Florentine Restaurant. And forget about paper. At True West Coffee, a customer's receipt is sent by text to their phone.

The popularity of tablet devices such as the iPad is helping increase efficiency at area businesses and influencing learning for students at local school districts.

That widespread use is projected to nearly double sales of the devices worldwide to 119 million units this year, and then triple sales to about 369 million units in 2016, according a report released this week by Gartner Inc., an international information technology research and advisory company.

By 2015, about 35 percent of tablet sales will be for business use, Gartner said.

When Chris and Vanessa Cannon opened True West Coffee in Hamilton late last year, they outfitted the eatery with an iPad for a cash register, plus a wireless cash box and printer.

"I think we spent $1,100 on all the hardware for it," Chris Cannon said. "It was a huge cost savings for us rather than buying a full point-of-sale system. A full point-of-purchase system could be up to $8,000."

Deborah Turner, special-education coordinator for Middletown, said tablet devices are good motivators for students.

She said her department has deployed about 90 iPads since April 2011 to special-education teachers and related staff. It's her hope that all 106 staff members in the realm of special education have an iPad, including school psychologists and therapists.

"If kids do their work, they can play a math game," Turner said. "The primary use is for the students to gain 21st-century skills and understand technology."

For businesses, using technology can mean cost savings and increased efficiency.

True West uses a free app from a company called Square to tap in an order, whether a transaction is cash or credit. If it is credit, customers swipe their cards through a free Square reader, which wirelessly connects to the restaurant's cash box.

Customers then sign the screen with their finger and a receipt is either printed, texted or emailed.

"We barely print receipts," Cannon said.

Further sweetening the deal, True West avoids monthly fees associated with a point-of-sale system and pays only a 2.75 percent rate to Square per card swipe regardless of the credit card company's established and sometimes higher rate.

Entering items for a business is simple, Cannon said.

"You just input your menu ... type in the price and save it and it comes up as a little icon within our menu," Cannon said.

"Actually, if you really want to get into it, you can put photographs in (of each item) and the person entering the order can just tap on the order."

Josh Green, owner of Culinetwork, a local company delivering technology to restaurants and hotels, said he can hardly keep up with orders for the new technology.

"This is the beginning of the future," said Green, who specializes in installing the POSLavu point-of-sale system for businesses.

A mention of the system on Fox's "Kitchen Nightmares" last fall sent business owners nationwide scurrying to their search engines to find someone who could install the system. That attracted a slew of new customers for Culinetwork, Green said.

"We've taken a lot of leads and turned them into clients in a five-state radius," he said. "The portability of being able to take the order at the table and send it to the kitchen wirelessly provides southern hospitality, where the server can spend more time with the guest, making sure all their needs are not only anticipated, but taken care of."

One of Culinetwork's clients is Martin Hale, owner of the Florentine Restaurant in Germantown, who started using the POSLavu system last December after hearing about it on Ramsey's show.

Waiters there use five iPod touch devices to take orders and wirelessly transmit them for printing in the kitchen, boosting turnaround time for meals.

"It has increased efficiency tremendously," he said. "The server ... can actually turn around and take another table.

"Under the old system I had, the server would have to take an order down on a piece of paper and wait in line to get to the (two) touch screen stations that we had in the kitchen."

Similar to True West, customers at Florentine can swipe their card at the table and send their payment to an iPad that serves as a cash register at the bar.

"It's very ingenious," Hale said.

The new system cost half the price of a traditional POS system and took less than 45 minutes to install.

"If you had to run the wires and everything on two stories of what I got, it would probably take a day or two," Hale said.

Fred Bley of Frederick Mechanical in Oxford and Hamilton, said he has used a tablet for proposals and schedules since the first iPad debuted in 2010 to better serve the clientele of the plumbing, heating, cooling and refrigeration business.

When he enters an appointment on the schedule for his iPad, it instantly appears on his office computer, laptop, an iPad in an employee's truck and two iPhones.

"It's faster," he said. "Instead of writing everything down, you can send everything electronically."

Many school districts in Butler and Warren counties have integrated iPads and other electronic tablet devices into their curriculum this school year, while others are waiting for more funding opportunities before upgrading.

At Hamilton City Schools, about 200 iPads are in circulation for teachers, administrators and students, said Rex Bucheit, the district's tech integration coordinator.

Bucheit said Hamilton was one of the first districts in the United States to wirelessly stream the iPad's image onto a projector by using signals from Apple TV devices.

"Moving about the classroom is more effective teaching," Bucheit said, rather than being "tethered" to a desk by cords.

Matt Schermer, social studies teacher at Hamilton Freshman School, said the iPad allows for streamlining efficiencies in lesson planning and direct input of grades as he checks daily assignments.

"The secretarial work of the job has been simplified," Schermer said.

Bucheit said there are more than 27,000 educational applications available on the iPad, including areas such as 3-D modeling of atoms, painting, identifying plants and connecting classical literature with locations on Google Earth.

"We're looking at digital textbooks through the iBooks application," Bucheit said. "Not like a traditional textbook, but interactive; click on a picture and it becomes a video clip."

"They are loaded with apps specific to students they work with," Huff said. "It individualizes the curriculum for those students in an inclusive environment."

Turner said prior to the iPads, the district would spend anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 on non-verbal communication devices; now a $100 app such as TouchChat can perform the same actions.

Turner said the iPad apps help in the areas of visibility and hearing impairments and physical disability, such as an adaptive physical education teacher teaching yoga moves through the tablet.

Mason City Schools launched a pilot program this school year with 500 students in sixth through eighth grades bringing their own tablet devices for integration into the classroom, said Tracey Carson, spokeswoman.

The pilot will be evaluated at the end of the school year to determine how to proceed.

Because children have inherent digital skills, they don't need to be taught how to use the devices, but rather topics such as intellectual property and credible online sources, Carson said.

Bucheit agreed, citing "digital immigrants" versus "digital natives," meaning younger generations intuitively understand iPads and similar devices.

"These kids are faster than we are and technology-wise they can identify with (the iPad)," Schermer said, but added the expertise and personal touch of a teacher can never be replicated.

Madison Local Schools has acquired more than 60 iPads through various grants from the Middletown Community Foundation, Duke Energy, University of Cincinnati and Greater Cincinnati Foundation, said AJ Huff, spokeswoman for Madison.

Huff said the majority of iPads are used in math and science classes at the high school, but a handful are used by a second-grade class, administrators and special-education teachers.

Sales for Apple's iOS in 2012 are projected to account for 61.4 percent of worldwide media tablet sales to end users. That's despite the arrival of Microsoft-based devices and the expected international launch of the Kindle Fire.

While phone manufacturers and PC vendors continue to vie for a share of the media tablet market, there's been very limited success outside of Apple's iPad, according to Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner.

"As vendors struggled to compete on price and differentiate enough on either the hardware or ecosystem, inventories were built and only 60 million units actually reached the hands of consumers across the world (in 2011)," she said.

The situation has not improved in early 2012, when the arrival of the new iPad has reset the benchmark for the product to beat."

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