As the technical lead for Tablet Command, the most frequent question I hear is “Which iPad should my department get?”
The answer comes with some personal preference but some absolute requirements or recommendations. I’ll walk you through the difficult questions that everyone wonders about. I’ll start by getting to the point and then explain the different options.
My official recommendation for public safety (fire) users:
iPad Air 2
Wifi + Cellular (includes GPS receiver)
Do I need cellular? or is WiFi only okay?
This is an easy question. The WiFi only version DOES NOT CONTAIN A GPS RECEIVER. This means that if you have WiFi only you will not have a blue dot on your maps. Even if you decide not to use Tablet Command, if you think there is even the remotest chance that you will want to use maps of any kind, the GPS receiver is an invaluable tool. Whether routing with apps such as Google Maps or Avenza PDF Maps, you will need the GPS receiver that is built into the cellular card. I strongly recommend that you spend the extra $100 or so to have the cellular/GPS functionality.
What about data? Do I need data service?
Okay, so its smart to get the cellular capability. What about the cellular data plan? Do I have to pay for another data plan? No. Having the WiFi+Cellular version does not require you to activate the cellular plan. You can leave the data turned off and turn it on as needed. I have been riding with an iPad for a few years on the engine now, I can say that having the cellular connection is an extreme benefit. I don’t have to rely or worry about a WiFi connection or a WiFi hotspot. When we operate on the fire engine, we expect technology to work. Having the Wifi + cellular connection makes things simple and reliable as we expect.
How to purchase?
You could just go down and buy the iPad from Apple or Best Buy, but that limits the organization from certain benefits. I recommend that if your department is making the purchase that you consider purchasing through Apple Device Enrollment Program (DEP). This will allow your department to enroll and lock the device into a Mobile Device Manager (MDM) solution.
Does size matter? What size is best?
I strongly recommend that the full size iPad, especially if the iPad is for use on a fire engine or a battalion chief unit. The full sized screen gives you much more real estate and forgiveness for your finger, and is still very mobile. The iPad mini is very convenient—my hands enjoy being able to hold it in one hand—and honestly, when I am using it for personal use, my mind does not notice the difference. When we are managing incidents, we want things big, bright, and easy to interact with. Another note about full sized iPad options: The newest iPad Air 2 claims a 25% reduction in glare. This helps a little bit with bright environments.
How much memory will I need?
I would suggest any size greater than 32GB. Tablet Command itself will take up very little of that space. However, you will likely want to cache a large amount of map data. This could take up as much as 10GB. (More if you’re really into maps...)
Which carrier? Which Color?
Color and carrier choice is entirely up to you! Each area or department has better service in different areas. I personally have AT&T phone / data on my phone and Verizon on my iPad.