Is that an iPad in your fire truck or am I seeing things?

Apple's iPad and how it's used have both evolved since its introduction in 2010. These days, it could even help save your life.

Apple, iPad, tablet, iOS, fire, fire service, emergency
Elijah O'Donell

In one frequently mocked Apple iPad ad, a small child asked, “What’s a computer?” Critics continue to claim the tablet isn’t a real computer, and while that may be true sometimes, that's not always the case.

Just ask the fire service.

Your iPad does emergency calls

An article from Fire Apparatus Magazine offers insights into how iPads are evolving to fill the spaces mobile teams rely on.

Clad in Otterbox robust cases, Apple's tablets are slowly but surely replacing many of the rugged devices these teams traditionally used, at least, until this replacement device came along. Not only that, but as Apple continues to improve iPad capabilities we’re seeing the number of ways in which they can provision the computational resources people actually need to use.

Sure. You can’t develop Xcode on an iPad (though you can use them for advanced graphics editing). And you can use them to drive emergency communications, help handle emergency triage, or as tools to enhance fitness in professions where physical capacity really does represent life and death.

Perhaps Apple would have seen less criticism if it had scripted that small child asking a different question, such as, “What’s a computer for?” — because that’s truly the nub here. In many cases, tablets fulfil a core need.

Even good ideas take time to catch fire

The Fire Apparatus report looks at numerous ways fire and emergency teams in the US currently exploit their Apple tablets.

For example, North Shore Fire Rescue in Wisconsin uses 27 iPads across five stations. These are used in both ambulances and fire trucks and at fire stations for administrative tasks, fitness, and training.

iPads in the fire and emergency services run applications like ImageTrend for EMS reporting, OperativeIQ for fleet management, or FirstDue for mapping and dispatch. Near Apple's California headquarters, Santa Clara County will soon begin using Esri Field Map software for business and field inspections.

These are tools already used across the industry (and elsewhere) to help maintain operational efficiency in highly critical life-or-death situations, and apparently provide more than enough computing power to handle the tasks. They're also easy to use, highly portable, and enjoy access to a vast ecosystem of apps the fire services can exploit in a crisis.

It might seem inevitable that Apple solutions would be in use across emergency services in Santa Clara. But the fire department there has used Apple computers since the 1980s (mostly iMacs) and dumped a competing model of computer in favor of iPads in 2014. The service says it is getting four years of use out of each unit, despite heavy use.

Back in the real world

Chris Ingram, a captain at the Santa Clara County Fire Department explained that each fire rig has two iPads — one up front for routing and a second dedicated to patient care. That latter device sees a lot of use in critical situations.

The iPads also form part of the electronic management tools that fire service uses, handling record management and vehicle locations.

All of this is noteworthy when you think back to the launch of the original iPad in April 2010. Critics called these devices little more than “giant iPhones," and then-CEO Steve Jobs chose to demonstrate the first-generation device while sitting in an easy chair.

Ideas evolve over time

But, like the iPhone, ideas evolve over time, and the things we imagined iPads could do then have been realized and transmogrified by time.

Where we are today, Apple’s iPad forms a third front in its tripartite takeover of so many of the tools traditionally used across enterprise tech.

Mac market share is rising rapidly even as iPhones and iPads build Apple’s status in the mobile change wave. And if you are — and I hope it never happens — in an emergency, there’s a growing chance Apple’s mobile solutions will be involved in your rescue.

That’s not something many of us saw coming.

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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