NORTH LIBERTY– Apple’s newest must-have gadget, the sleek and sexy iPad2 tablet, has enough apps to occupy even the most avid techno-geek. With the iPad2, you can not only read Internet content, check email, and create spreadsheets or presentations for work, you can also karaoke with your favorite Glee characters, lay waste to thieving pigs who steal eggs from Angry Birds, jam the roundball with the likes of Scottie Pippin or Karl Malone, and shoot soccer balls at cartoon zombies in your spare time.
The Pope even used an iPad to send his first-ever tweet.
In North Liberty, the iPad won’t be used for most of the device’s 90,000 potential pastimes. Instead, the city is now putting iPads to work to save money, trees and time.
The city purchased iPads for council members, commissioners and a few staff in an attempt to go green, replacing fat paper agendas that used to be copied for everyone and hand-delivered– at least, to council members– before their twice-monthly meetings.
“When we decided to distribute the information digitally, we contacted many Iowa governments for guidance. Some noted they were investigating similar technology, but none had taken the plunge. So, it looks like we are the groundbreakers,” said North Liberty Telecommunications Director Cheryle Caplinger, in a press release issued last week.
In this new eco-friendly scenario, agendas and packets are uploaded to the devices, rather than copied on reams of paper, so councilors and commissioners can readily access meeting information, now literally at their fingertips.
Commissioners on the city’s various boards also have the use of the smart little tablets for their meetings, but those iPads stay at City Hall, rather than travel home like staff and council devices do.
The $500 per device expenditure– $9,000 in all, for 18 iPads– will pay for itself in about one year said City Administrator Ryan Heiar.
“I believe we will save about $10,000 a year on council packets alone,” said Heiar.
Before, city staff would spend approximately two hours at the copy machine, and expend gas and staff time delivering the cumbersome paper packets to each council member’s home on the Fridays before meeting dates. Using an average of 150 sheets per council packet– and often more– the paper packets were costly to produce and disseminate, not counting costs for copy machine supplies and depreciation for their wear and tear.
Caplinger conceded that some people may see the iPads as an extravagance. She hopes they will instead view them as the money-saving, tree-friendly instruments of information they were intended to be, at least in this application.
“We considered laptops, e-readers and iPads, while also taking into account usability, flexibility, mobility and, of course, cost,” Caplinger said. “We knew the chosen system would not be used for archiving, but we required write-on capability. We also wanted to sync them with ease, keep software expenses low and access Internet, email and other applications without difficulty. iPads became the obvious choice.”
North Liberty telecommunications staff took measures to ensure that the tablets are used in productive ways, rather than for Scrabble games and sword fighting aliens in alternative realities. Users can’t download applications without Caplinger’s knowledge, because she administrates the use of the iPads.
“It’s meant to include tools for use of councilors and commissioners, and we manage what apps they can put on their system,” said Caplinger. “So they can’t just download and play Angry Birds. The iPads aren’t meant to be used like laptops or extensive workstations.”
Even council member Gerry Kuhl, who said touchpad technology was new to him, is excited about the new iPads.
“I had no clue what I was getting into. I’m a little fearful about how things work, and it took me a little bit of time to learn to maneuver around, but I’ve gotten the hang of it now. I can take notes on the pad very easily, and my comments show up directly on the page.”
Kuhl said the cost savings from reduced paper use will be tremendous.
“Since we received them, I’ve had two council meetings, a Parks and Recreation meeting, and an upcoming Planning and Zoning meeting, and have yet to print a piece of paper. All together those packets were about 225 pages long. That’s a half a ream of paper.”
Multiply that by the number of packets previously printed– typically 10 per council meeting, and nearly as many for other commissions– and one can practically hear the clear cutting machines grind to a halt in the forests.
“I think it’s another step forward to promoting cost savings and green considerations,” said Kuhl. “I think they’re great!”