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Ten innovative, unusual and just plain cool uses for the iPad

And you thought Apple made the iPad just so you can play Angry Birds on a bigger screen. These innovative apps and alternative uses for the 10-inch tablet push a few boundaries – ordering drinks? reviewing an X-Ray? – but show how tablets are making computing mobile and immediate.

Interactive training at a trade show

We’ve taken the iPad at trade shows before, especially CES. However, Schott, a company that makes a ceramic-glass material for use in fireplaces, took the concept a step further. At the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company mounted iPads around their booth and let people play around with an app that shows how the technology works.

Check an X-Ray

This one is probably the most innovative use of the iPad we’ve seen. At the Children’s Hospital of Central California, the staff use an app called VMware View to treat patients. Essentially, they can tap into a desktop remotely to view x-rays, check on patient tests, and look at health records. The technology, called “follow me desktop” is more streamlined than traditional remote access apps, which just show you another computer screen, and tap into the data stored on your computer.

Sketch out a drawing

Artists took to the iPad right away – it has an accurate touch screen, it’s viewable from a side angle, and it has a big enough screen to create a real work of art. The Interactive Sketchbook app is one of the best artist tools around. You can pull up a photo on one side of the screen and sketch out your image on the right panel. Some artists swear by the Pogo stylus as well, which gives you a bit more accuracy – though a stylus is not required. Some of the artwork produced with the app is outstanding.

Place your order at a restaurant

There’s an iPad on every table at the Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company restaurant in Indianapolis, encased in a metal shroud. There are no regular menus, so you can browse through the dinner selections and order drinks, check on the status of an order, and even watch videos showing how they make the food (and the beer). You can also update your Facebook status.

Go surfing

That’s right, you can go surfing with the iPad. Well, that might be a stretch, but the G-Form outdoor case for the iPad uses a technology called reactive protection which uses a flexible exoskeleton to make sure the iPad doesn’t break. (The company has demonstrated dropping a bowling ball onto the case with an iPad inside playing a movie.) Molecules actually form together when the pad senses impact.

Order a drink at a bar

At the Lunar nightclub in Cincinnati, servers carry around iPads (and iPhones) and can order drinks and menu items using a custom app. (“Runners” bring the food out, so the server never has to go back to the kitchen.) The club also manages the guest list, which is helpful since it hosts parties for as many as 800 people. Managers can communicate about guest check-ins in real-time with the doormen.

DJ at a party

Djay is one of the best apps for iPad because it shows how the tablet can be used for so many different purposes. The app, which allows you to create scratches on the fly and mix to songs together, actually works better than the expensive physical equipment. You can load up countless songs, use the touch interface to make some memorable mixes, cue up tracks for a party, and even use a feature that analyzes your song library to see which songs would be best for a playlist.

Universal remote control

Another universal remote replacement, the Apptwee works with 200 brands and 845 models of home entertainment equipment. There’s an IR (infrared) dongle that connects to the headphone jack that you use to communicate with your gear – the dongle costs just $20 and the app is free to download. What’s cool about the app is that it does more than just let you control volume. You can change the source, adjust audio properties, and even control subtitles using the full-screen touch interface.

Control Verizon FiOS TV

The iPhone and iPad have made those proprietary remote controls with 4,000 buttons and a tiny screen look like a bad joke. One of the most powerful iPad apps for controlling television is for the Verizon FiOS TV. You can browse the program guide, set recordings, view which shows have been recorded recently, and of course switch channels and control basic DVR functions.

Mount one in your car

The RAM Mount POD ( clamps to the seat rail on the passenger side of your car so you can run apps, use an app like Navigon for navigation, or even watch a movie (but not while you drive). The mount costs about $73 and includes a roller that holds the tablet in place. RAM Mount also makes iPad mounts for boats and even airplanes, walls in your home, and for desktop use.

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John Brandon
Former Digital Trends Contributor
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