ITB 2022 Special Reporting
iPads and Other Tablets: New Mobile Options for Events and Tradeshows.
By Corbin Ball
Wednesday, 2nd February 2011
The iPad is the most recent in long-running, game-changing innovations from Apple; the Mac brought the widespread use of the mouse to portable computing (1984); the iPod changed how we listened to music (2001); the iPhone revolutionized mobile phones  (2007), the App Store is changing the software procurement model (2008), and the iPad (2010) will likely have similar long-term ramifications.

The iPad -- What is it?

iPads have been sprouting like mushrooms at events since the release last April. The iPad is a type of tablet computer with a touch-sensitive screen instead of a keyboard. It is sleek and light (1.5 pounds) and has a very high resolution 9.7 inch/24.5 centimeter.

It has similar functionality of the iPhone but without standard phone capability.  This larger screen size opens up a wealth of opportunities for meeting planners, exhibitors, attendees and others in our industry.  It is a polished, intuitive way of accessing data and consuming media wherever you are.

Why is it important for events and tradeshows?

Our industry is a mobile one:
  • We do business away from our offices and from our "large screen" computers on a regular basis. 
  • Most of us don't carry around notebook computers at events for a number of reasons: weight, security, the inability to access easily while standing, etc.
  • We constantly need to manage a wide range of data at events. For lack of a better way until now, much of these data have been in the form of paper.
The iPad and the coming iPad clones represent new ways to access information. Light weight, highly mobile, highly intuitive. The larger screen allow for bigger fonts, easier readability and more real estate to display material in a page-like format. The navigation is intuitive (with your fingers instead of a keyboard and mouse).

The iPad and its clones will fit the bill in many ways for events. Here are some of the ways this new format is developing:

Interactive conference programs:
Paper conference programs go out of date as soon as they are printed. They are heavy to carry around, difficult to use, and they usually end up in a landfill after the event. Mobile phone apps, although helpful, have limitations due to small screen size.

iPads open a new range of possibilities. Not only can the conference program be included, but also easy links for more information about the speakers, topics, session handouts and other events. Videos of the speakers with slides and transcriptions can be included after the event. Surveys of the presentations can be included as well. QuickMobile is one of the web developers pioneering this full range of interactive iPad program options.

Course notes distribution:
Citing environmental concerns, paper session handouts and course notes have been dropped from many events, even though they can helpful to attendees for increasing retention.

Sometimes, the notes are distributed in Adobe .PDF format either before or during the event for printout on demand. The iPad may be a perfect tool to use with this. Using an annotation tool such as iAnnotate attendees can download all of the .PDF formatted handouts to their iPads in advance, make notes on them during the presentations using the annotation tool, and then store/share them digitally for future reference and easy retrieval.

One-on-one surveys happen routinely at events… in the exhibition booth or in the registration area to gain insight on attendee thoughts. Paper surveys, however, are laborious to tally. The iPad, with its larger format similar to a page, could be the perfect solution. This will allow the interviewer to collect the data as he or she would with paper and a clipboard, but capturing and tallying the data electronically in a much more efficient manner.

The iPad could also be used with self-service survey kiosk as well. SurveyAnalytics is among the many providing iPad survey applications for events.

Interactive exhibitor displays and information kiosks
With the iPad's intuitive touch navigation, large high-resolution screen and full multi-media capabilities, it will be a natural for self-service information demos in a booth or elsewhere. If the attendees like the demo, they can electronically request more product information or even load the app and take it with them.

Attendees and exhibitors do not have to be tied to a particular area of the booth for demonstrations. High-resolution, multimedia presentations can be given anywhere due to the iPad's great portability.

Lead exchange and qualification:
One good contact at a meeting or tradeshow can be worth the price of the entire meeting.  The traditional bar-code reader employed at most large tradeshow needs to be replaced with simpler solutions. One step forward is Bartizan's iLeads. Instead of standing in line wait to pick up and return bar-code equipment, the exhibitors simply download the iPad app, and then they can enter a badge number on their iPad or iPhone. This will pull the contact information from the registration database. It then contains customizable qualification questions, survey questions and actions items.

The larger iPad interface makes it easier and quicker to view the options instead of scrolling through iPhone screens. Both formats, however, have the advantage of portability. The bar-code scanner is booth-bound; these mobile alternatives can be used at receptions, coffee breaks, or anywhere at the event.

Lead tracking can also be tied into exhibit demos mentioned above. When attendees identify themselves via badge numbers or scans, topics based on their profile can be presented and/or specific interest areas chosen can be tracked.

Interactive exhibit guides and floor plans:
Traditional printed exhibition guides for large tradeshows can weigh several pounds; are expensive to print and ship; and go out date as soon as they are printed. Paper floor plans are difficult to navigate and of limited use, especially with larger shows.

The iPad and other tablet PCs as they become available, will provide a much more convenient and efficient way of navigating the exhibit hall. You will be able to search on an exhibitor name or product category to identify booths you wish to visit. Then, using the iPad's location-aware GPS capabilities, you will be able to see exactly where you are in the exhibit hall floor plan and then identify from booth-to-booth the most efficient navigation steps to visit them. Mobile providers such as Sherpa Solutions are providing this functionality for mobile applications.

The GPS capabilities will also be useful in navigation in other parts of the venue and the neighborhood around it as well.

Hotel sales and planner assistance:
iPads will also be a natural for hotel sales. A great example is eMarketing360's eSaleskit which contains a hotel or venue's property photos, floor plans, menus, videos and other assets in on the iPad making it convenient, portable tool for the exhibit booth or sales calls.

Once the sale is made, the ePlannerToolkit provides the meeting planner with property details in both a web and iPad format containing property logos, floor plans, room capacities, photo gallery, menus, hotel forms (hotel fact sheet, guidelines, preferred vendors, exhibit forms, AV pricing, etc), area information, room information (photos/descriptions of accommodation types), hotel directory of contacts, and travel information, as a convenient iPad app immediately accessible to the planner at anytime.

Speaker Q&A:
The iPad, with is larger and quicker touch keyboard is being used by event bloggers on site and as a means to post on Twitter and other social networking tools. This will be a natural tool for audience members to post questions to speakers (either via a tweet stream, SMS, or other channel).

The iPad is leading the way, but there are many clones coming (more the 70 different tablets were show last week at the CES show in Las Vegas). There is great potential with these tools to assist with meetings and tradeshows. I have listed a few of them.  What are some others with this exciting and rapidly changing new tool for events?

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is an independent 3rd-party analyst focusing on meetings and tradeshow technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings and shows, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site: www.corbinball.com and followed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/corbinball.

©2011 Corbin Ball Associates
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