An iPad Stimulus Plan: It’s about books, jobs, lower healthcare costs and fewer paperwork hassles

image Apple has sold some three million iPads in 80 days, according to the latest news from the company. Many thousands of books are now available for the iPad and the newer iPhones and iPod Touches through Apple’s iBooks app—including The Solomon Scandals.

But three million is still a small number compared to the total U.S. population of 310 million. How to popularize iPad-style machines in a way that will encourage mass literacy? And maybe help newspapers as well as books?

imageWell, we know that libraries have taken a major funding hit lately. So forget about Washington suddenly doling out heaps of cash just for that purpose. And like many others, I have reservations about D.C. directly supporting newspapers, given the freedom-of-the-press issue.

But what if we could systematically use iPaddish gizmos not just for reading but also for many other applications in areas ranging from tax forms to healthcare? And suppose the efficiencies from the plan as a whole could more than cost-justify the library-related component. And help journalism indirectly by popularizing newspaper-friendly hardware? The same gizmos could also distribute multimedia for job training, drive down healthcare costs and reduce the related paperwork. Even small businesses could benefit. Restaurant customers could use iPad-like gadgets to send in pick-up orders or request home deliveries—while cooks could see perfectly targeted videos teaching them new recipes.

image An old rule in information technology applies here. What would be a waste of money for one purpose can actually be thrifty if used for multiple ones. Such is the logic behind the iPad Stimulus Plan, which is really about a whole class of machine—since I don’t want the plan to be built around one company’s proprietary technology. That said, iPads are changing the rules since they’re so much easier to master than the usual desktops. Government is generally  lousy at picking tech winners, but the iPad has already proven itself in the marketplace, and it’s time to Washington to take notice—not just by popularizing iPad-style hardware but also by encouraging the creation of suitable applications for purposes such as tax forms and healthcare. Interestingly, the iPad in many ways overlaps with the TeleReaders that I proposed in Computerworld in 1992.

image For more, you can read An iPad Stimulus Plan, my guest post on James Fallows’ blog on The Atlantic’s Web site. I’ve also uploaded a copy to Hello, President Obama and aides? Care to check this one out? Already Steve Rubel (above photo), a popular blogger and PR man in the technology business, has written some nice words about the plan. While I’m coming at this from a civic rather than business angle, I know that the proposal has much more of a chance of becoming reality with support from business people. So thanks, Steve. And thanks to Jim Fallows for the forum. Correctly Jim writes that “radically speeded-up adoption of the iPad-style devices could serve economic-stimulus and social-equality needs at the same time. Although he doesn’t put it this way, it’s his counterpart to a post-Sputnik technology-promotion plan.” Exactly.

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David Rothman

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