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Everybody knows a tablet is good for apps, games, movies, slideshows, and reading. But what about the more unusual uses? Did you know, for instance, that you can run Windows 7 on an Apple iPad? Monitor your breathing and heart rates without chest straps or other clunky contraptions? Power a robot with mad navigation skills?
Some of the unexpected tablet applications we've spotlighted here are prototypes, such as Ava, an upright robot that uses an iPad as its brain. And then there's Ardic's 65-inch touchscreen Android tablet, which is a bit impractical for most of us. On the practical side of things, there's Smartphoneware's Best Prompter Pro app that turns your iPad into a teleprompter. It records your speeches also--a boon for business pros who want to hone their toastmaster skills.
What's the future hold for tablets? A recent Gartner report, "iPad and Beyond: What the Future of Computing Holds", offers a tantalizing glimpse into how slates may transform the computing landscape.
The tablet's key attributes: A slim-and-light form factor, a large display (relative to the smartphone), instant on, and one or more cameras. Combined with back-end, cloud-based processing, the not-too-distant future may bring real-time language translation--a big plus for enterprises that manage a global, multi-lingual workforce.
"For emerging user interfaces, we have seen a big explosion in multitouch," said analyst Jon Erensen in a Gartner video on tablet trends. But the UI enhancements to watch are gesture and voice recognition. Big strides are being made in both areas, Erensen said, and upcoming tablets will incorporate gesture and speech input in a big way.
Another intriguing mobile app that's still in its formative stage is augmented reality (AR), which displays computer-generated information over a real-world view. For instance, if point your tablet at a BART stop in San Francisco, an AR app might display a train schedule over a live view of the subway station.
The really far-out ideas may seem crazy today, but this doesn't mean they won't find their way to market. Clever concept devices such as the origami-like Feno foldable computer may, with some modifications, become the shipping tablets of tomorrow. And lab projects have the potential to revolutionize mobile computing, including flexible OLED displays being developed by the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and other research groups, as well as pico projectors for presentations on the go.
Here are 10 tablet applications and features that may surprise you. Have any additional suggestions for what you'd like to do with a tablet? Let us know in the comments section below.
The iPad is great for many things, but it's no replacement for a Mac or Windows PC. If you're traveling with an iPad--but no PC--sometimes you need Windows 7 and Microsoft Office, particularly if you're running Windows at work.
OnLive Desktop is a free app (yes, free) that brings a cloud-based Windows desktop, plus Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, to your iPad. The Standard version includes 2 GB of cloud storage, which appears as your Documents folder on the Onlive Desktop display. The Pro version starts at $10 per month, has 50 GB of cloud storage, and can add additional PC applications. Versions for Android and other platforms are coming soon.
If public speaking isn't your thing, the best way to get chatty is to practice, practice, practice. Smartphoneware's Best Prompter Pro turns your iPad into a professional teleprompter, allowing you to create and scroll speeches, as well as record your oratory skills for personal critiques. You can edit your speeches inside this $3.99 app, which also estimates the length of scripts based on scrolling speed of the text.
Security-oriented smartphone apps that show video feeds of your home or office aren't new, but the tablet's larger display makes it a superior sentry, particularly if you want to watch multiple live streams at once. D-Link, for instance, recently launched tablet-ready versions of its mydlink+ security app for iPad and Android slates. The app, working in conjunction with one or more mydlink-enabled cameras via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection, lets you view up to four video streams simultaneously.
OK, maybe this isn't a DIY project, but it demonstrates the tablet's versatility. The folks at iRobot, best known for its Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, are developing Ava, a prototype robot that uses an iPad as its brain.
Equipped with numerous sensors for autonomous navigation, Ava may someday find real-world employment in numerous fields, including the healthcare, retail, and security industries. A shipping version of Ava probably won't have a gangly iPad head, but rather a display better suited for an upright robot that likes to roam.
Doceri is a remote-control app that lets you do whiteboard-style presentations, including PowerPoint and Keynote slideshows, with real-time annotations on an iPad. It consists of two components: an iPad app, and software for your Mac or Windows PC. Doceri enables the iPad to function as a wireless remote. Using the touchscreen, you have full mouse and keyboard control of your computer.
The app's annotation mode, used in conjunction with the optional $39 Doceri GoodPoint stylus, lets you mark up, highlight, and add text. Whatever you draw on the iPad's display appears on your computer's screen too.
You don't need a chest strap or a specialized wrist watch to monitor your vital signs. Philips' Vital Signs Camera uses the iPad 2's camera to measure your breathing and heart rates. Amazingly, this 99-cent app checks your heart rate by analyzing the color of your face, and your breathing rate from the motion of your chest. No additional hardware is needed, nor do you need to touch or hold the iPad. Oh, and it lets you share your vital stats via Facebook, Twitter, and email. Hopefully, your family doctor reads your tweets.
It's easy to catch a flick at 35,000 feet if you've brought your tablet along. But what if you're traveling slate-less? American Airlines recently announced that first and business class passengers on some transcontinental flights will be able to use a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to amuse themselves.
The Galaxy Tab, which replaces the flights' regular entertainment offerings, features 70 movies, including 30 new releases, plus a mix of audio and TV fare. Future uses will include Wi-Fi for Internet browsing, digital publications, and games, the airline said. Let's hope the Galaxy Tab isn't allowed in the lavatory.
You've probably heard of augment reality (AR) apps, which overlay computer-generated information, such as restaurant locations, over a live view of a real-world environment. Tablets' large displays are well-suited for AR, which is still in its infancy. Aurasma is an Android and iOS app that takes AR to the next level by adding video capabilities.
How does it work? Say, for instance, you're walking down a busy urban street. You point your tablet (or smartphone) at an art gallery. Aurasma recognizes the location and immediately overlays a brief video clip that promotes the gallery's current exhibition. Think of it as reality … only enhanced.
This approach may not work for the rest of us, but one clever Canadian was able to finagle his way through U.S. Customs by using his iPad as a passport. Martin Reisch was driving toward the Quebec-Vermont border when he realized that he had left his Canadian password at home, The Canadian Press reported. Rather than turn around, Reisch showed his driver's license and a scanned copy of his passport on his iPad to a mildly irritated border officer, who let the Canadian enter the U.S.
Those 10-inch tablets? For wimps. Ardic has developed a 65-inch Android "tablet," a prototype slate that almost certainly won't ship any time before, say, Armageddon. A 65-inch LCD touchscreen that lacks a processor, memory, and hard disk, this Ardic monster is powered by a separate 10-inch Android slate with an Nvidia Tegra 2 chip and 1 GB of RAM. (The two are connected via a dock with built-in USB and HDMI.) One shortcoming: It's not exactly portable.