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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--In September, Microsoft revealed the developer preview version of Windows 8 -- a milestone shift for the Windows platform as much of the improvements have been made to making the operating system optimized for a tablet experience.
The boot-up time is superb (from pressing the power button to using the system is almost as fast as turning my iPad on), there is a custom user interface that encourages touch, and Internet Explorer 10 intentionally strips out all plug-ins so that sites run faster and more secure. Microsoft is staking a claim to the future of the tablet space.
Of course, they aren't the only ones betting on handheld devices. Apple is currently king, with the vast majority of the tablet marketshare through the iPad. If you haven't used an iPad yet, it's well worth finding at your local Apple store. The device is built perfectly for media consumption, browsing the Internet and playing games. Unless your work depends upon a deep graphic design, video production, or office suite, the iPad may stand to be the best choice for your next computer.
Amazon's Kindle Fire -- which will be released in mid-November -- made a huge splash with an announced $199 price tag. And then there's Google, whose Honeycomb tablets are slowly trickling out. While they haven't made a giant dent in the market yet, the ability for device manufacturers to completely customize the operating system is going to be leading to some great experiences in the future. The next developer release of Android from Google aims to fix some of the development issues facing Android tablet apps, and pull together the experience of phone and tablet apps for better development times.
Microsoft used to have the goal of a computer on every desktop. Now the industry is racing to have a tablet in every pair of hands. Let's look at five ways tablets are going to be changing your church and ministry in the coming years.
1) Face to face conversations.
The iPad 2 ships with a front-facing camera, as do most Android tablets. The tablet is just the right size to fill the screen with a friend's head, and have them feel like they are there in the room with you. Now your missionaries will be able to easily call to their home church on a Sunday morning over WiFi and give an update on how things are going. Discipleship on the Internet can begin to be more real; in a face-to-face conversation you can tell if that person is paying attention or playing a game. Facial expressions will have meaning again, and not have to be driven down to little emoticons.
2) Easier access to text resources.
Missionaries can't afford to ship their entire library overseas, but they can bring along a slim device that carries $5,000 worth of commentaries downloaded on it. Was there some great text that influenced your theology when you were in college? It may be out of print, but -- now -- it might be readily accessible through one of the plethora of digital reader apps. When it's Saturday night and you're putting those final touches on the Sunday School lesson, you might not be able to head out to the church library for the commentary set you need. But, you might just be able to pull it up right away from your digital book collection. Tablets create such a better reading experience than either a phone or a computer screen; holding a tablet feels like holding a book. Tablets will be the natural method of reading for the rising generation.
3) Owning your church's app.
You just got done with you awesome new website, I know, but have you started on your app yet? As the operating system companies continue to look for competitive advantages over their competitors, we are going to have a new norm of cyclical change. Web browsers and online sites will catch up to the abilities of tablet apps (like we're seeing with HTML5), then tablets will improve and the flow will go back to apps being more advanced that browsers can hope to be, and so on. If your church doesn't have an app in the coming years that is constantly updated like your website, the rising culture (not just the rising generation) might feel disconnected. A website is your billboard for the church attendee; owning the app means that they are a part of something.
4) No more guest cards?
Windows 8 has announced support for NFC (near-field communication) and the Nexus S 4G (an Android device) is already out with it. NFC allows you to share basic information with other NFC-enabled devices, just by being close to them and tapping. Want to leave your personal information for the church to contact you? Just tap your phone on the church's information tablet in the back. Are you a member and want to tithe through your credit card? Just tap that, too.
5) Your pastor may not need an office.
That's what we do with our pastor at Mosaic Nashville. We've never rented office space for our pastor. Instead, he goes to different coffee shops each day to meet with different people and be a part of the local community. There are only four things that tie a pastor to an office: their computer (it's portable now via the tablet), their library (it's in the tablet), knowing where the pastor will be (now broadcast via twitter and Facebook), and privacy.
As tablets become more available in more flavors, there are going to be feature sets and price points that exactly match your ministry's needs. The goal of a computer on every desk will be quickly forgotten, just as the art of handwriting begins its exit as well. So ... have you picked up a tablet lately?
Aaron Linne is executive producer of digital marketing for the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He writes a monthly technology column for Baptist Press.