The glut of recent iPad coverage following the Apple tablet's Australian launch has included a fair dose of "oh my goodness, they can even use them in restaurants!" coverage. But while that's a neat idea, it's hardly a new one.
Picture by davetron5000
I'm in one of Las Vegas' more elegant restaurants, Aureole at the Mandalay Bay casino. The standout feature is a four-story tower of wine, but that's closely followed by the way you can browse and choose from that wine: by browsing on a tablet PC which contains detailed descriptions of every bottle in the tower.
What's notable about this? It happened in January 2007, while I was attending CES. Yep, a whole three-and-a-half years ago. It was a magical meal, but it means I can't see using a tablet PC in a restaurant as anything approaching revolutionary.
I only mention this because in recent weeks we've seen a lot of coverage of the use of iPads in Australian restaurants for the same purpose. The Daily Telegraph ran a piece on Global Mundo Tapas in North Sydney, which allows diners to transmit their orders direct from the device to the kitchen. The Australian followed up with a piece about similar plans at Melbourne restaurant Pearl, though it hasn't actually rolled out the software yet.
What raises my hackles slightly here (News Limited's slavishly positive coverage of all things iPad aside) is the implication that this is a uniquely Apple-given gift. Given the 2 million sales, there's no question that Apple has mastered the tablet format in a way that appeals to consumers like none before it. But that doesn't mean that it (or its army of happy developers) should get credit for every possible use of a tablet form factor. Tablet PCs have happily resided in hospitals for quite some time — and the same is true of restaurants.
Doubtless, there are still people who would prefer a conventional printed menu and a chat with a sommelier to browsing on a tablet, whoever manufactures it. I doubt they'll be forced to use one. No matter what kind of restaurant you like, you can probably find one (especially if you happen to be in Las Vegas).
Having a range of options to choose from is part of what makes dining out so appealing. I'd argue the same also applies to which computer (or smart phone, or browser) you choose — and for that reason, I hope Aureole doesn't feel the urge to switch to the iPad in a hurry.
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