On January 27, 2010, two important stories lit up the 'tweetosphere'. In Washington, Barack Obama made the annual State of the Union address. In California, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, announced the arrival of the iPad.
The news of iPad's arrival gained 7,000 tweets per second, compared to Obama’s 9,000. Close call for the president
Since its release in the United States at the end of April, and internationally at the end of May, the iPad has made its way into the hands of politicians who, like other users, find it convenient to carry out their day jobs on the go, using it for reading anything from emails and news to draft legislation.
When Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was stranded in New York in April 2010, his office circulated a photo showing that, while detained, he "ran the country on iPad"
Members of the House of Representatives in the US have already used the device to deliver speeches.
There's a handy app that converts the iPad into a teleprompter – though the current iPad version freezes in hot weather, so don’t leave home without a paper copy of your speech
The iPad has even made it to the Supreme Court, where Justice Antonin Scalia uses one to read court briefs.
Personal convenience aside, politicos are finding ways to use the iPad for added value in the political process. For one, it's expected to be one of the first modern technological devices that will make it to the floor of the House of Representatives after the new Republican majority revises the rules for what's permissible in the historic chamber. Until the 112th Congress, there had been a ban on all electronic devices.
The change could allow congressmen instant access to information that could alter the direction of debate and influence law-making.
Some have predicted that lawmakers might rely on electronic versions of bills displayed on iPads. So long, to the huge stacks of printed bills outside the Chamber?
The council in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, has already abandoned paper copies of the agenda and legislation and supplied all its council members with iPads, claiming that, within 18 months, the savings on printing will pay for the gadgets.
Though Britain has long allowed electronic devices in Parliament, the development will be significant for the House of Representatives, which still does not permit mobile phones – staff can only communicate with members on the floor by sending in paper notes. If the democratic process in the House has been able to evolve through the ages, then surely the iPad would be entirely at home among the brass spittoons and 19th century wooden desks?
In June 2010, the New York State Senate was the first US legislative body to develop an iPad application, enabling citizens to follow the legislative agenda and news. It was created in open-source format so that other legislatures could benefit, and easily adopt and adapt it.
Though elected politicians seem to be paving the way for iPads in politics, campaigns, too, are in the early stages of experimenting with it. Though iPads didn’t feature significantly in the November US mid-term elections, a number of organisations created apps for the technology, including the pioneering democratic national committee, with the national republican senatorial committee not far behind. Plans are already taking shape for the 2012 elections, where the iPad format may play more of a role in political communications.
Beyond applications, campaigns have discovered that the iPad is uniquely suited to both interactive and video content, and would accommodate longer campaign videos and more interactive advertising. These features present exciting opportunities to engage more directly with voters, and capture attention for longer.
The question at this stage is, just how influential could the iPad be in politics and campaigns in the near future? One estimate predicts that Apple may sell over 37 million iPads in 2011. That sounds like a respectable figure, but, in political terms, it’s a tiny percentage of voters, given that most iPad users are male, aged between 21 and 44, with the disposable income to purchase high-tech equipment.
Nonetheless, it's been estimated that by 2012 as many as 54 million tablet-style computers will be sold – a fast-growing piece of the PC pie. And if they transform computing the way laptops did, then in five years, the iPad and its rivals could be mainstream. Campaigns will be eager to ensure they are able to engage with people in this new format.
For now, candidates and politicians are already finding that the iPad has promise for reaching people in new ways, with the added potential of modernising the democratic process. That certainly sounds like a tablet worth taking.
Melanie Batley has worked as a US campaign adviser and was a researcher for the Conservative Party