Last week I discussed how electronic gadgets like the iPad have begun to change the way we work. I related that I had seen iPads used as presentation tools at Data Center World by BNP Media staff and other exhibitors. I called these devices productivity and sales tools. I related that ASCO’s Armand Visioli felt that offerings like the iPad and smartphones would drive the need for more data centers.

Afterwards Mission Critical’s publisher Peter Moran posed an question, “Are iPads and smart phones sales tools or productivity devices?” Peter wanted to know what function would make these devices indispensable. After all, he noted, the economy rolled along pretty nicely before the advent of the fax machine, e-mail, cell phones, and even computers. I think we both agreed that these devices had helped drive worker and company productivity. Peter was very interested when I said that exhibitors on the Data Center World floor had found ways to demonstrate equipment in a way that couldn’t be emulated on paper and wouldn’t be convenient using a laptop. In other words these early iPads already found use as sales tools.

As a result of these two notions, I have been paying some attention to how people are using these devices. For instance, GigaOm blogged yesterday, U.S. teenagers have quadrupled their mobile data usage,  according to a new report from Nielsen, a sign that the traditional power texters are now ready to become serious mobile Internet users.” Neilson further reported, “Teens used 62 megabytes of data in the second quarter of this year compared to just 14 megabytes during the same quarter last year.” The higher use level remains significantly less than the 200 MB allowed by AT&T’s less expensive data plan.

For now, these data may be insignificant, except that they suggest that Armand is correct about the infrastructure demands posed by the increased adoption of these devices. More likely, though, they augur a workforce so familiar with smart devices that they will be both productivity and sales devices.

So far my personal experience is limited, as I haven’t seen a lot of professionals using iPads in the wild and my cell phone is an older Blackberry. Still my brief experience suggests that the tablet form factor makes the iPad and the upcoming Google tablet more useful as presentation tools than either full-sized laptops or smaller screen smart phones. And the apps created for the iPhone and Android operating system makes the smart tablets more versatile than older PC-based tablets.

For now, in short, early adopters like BNP Media are blazing the trail, and these users will demonstrate new ways to use mobile devices, and soon we’ll know whether these are productivity or sales devices.

I’m also seeing the potential for users of smart devices to pioneer new services. The WSJ reported, “The rise of mainstream tablet computers is proving to have unforeseen benefits for children with speech and communication problems-and such use has the potential to disrupt a business where specialized devices can cost thousands of dollars. Before she got an iPad at age two, Caleigh Gray couldn't respond to yes-or-no questions. Now Caleigh, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, uses a $190 software application that speaks the words associated with pictures she touches on Apple Inc.'s device.”

In this case, the tablet is neither productivity device nor sales tool, rather a creative app and iPad provide a new service that was previously unavailable to Caleigh Gray. This is just one example, and our imaginations may form the only limits to what we can achieve.

So, sales tool, productivity device, or something else? As the first smart tablet device, Apple’s iPad may revolutionize how we do business, with concomitant demands on mobile and data center infrastructure. I plan to continue my research on the subject and perhaps even join the smart device world soon. Let me know the interesting uses you have developed for your smart phone or iPad or those that you see in the field. The information revolution shows no sign of slowing down, and we continue to be at the center of it.