Was there a tablet at your Superbowl party this year?

Did you see that amazing catch? Swerving, sprinting and sacrificing to plant his feet inbounds, Mario Manningham of the New York Giants made the catch of the game and lead his team to a Superbowl championship? But what amazed me more (because I’m a geek), from my vantage point on the couch, was the iPad being passed back and forth throughout the game. It was the centrepiece, the singular populist piece of technology that seemed to go beyond mere screen time; it stepped in for an encyclopedia (Wikipedia), a movie reference (IMDb), Twitter, Facebook, a game console, a music player and, mostly, as a browser.

The iPad was integrated so tightly into the party that no one questioned why it was there, or what its purpose was. The more I saw of its versatility, the better I understood that it’s not a computer; there is no way a laptop would be passed around in a similar way, nor a Windows 7 tablet. The fundamental difference between the iPad and all those that came before it is how uniformly easy it is to use. There wasn’t a single moment where anyone questioned how something worked, nor complain of its sluggishness.

By the end of the game the iPad had been used for at least ten different purposes, many of which were confined to the Safari browser, with the occasional launching of Twitter, YouTube, Shazam or a quick jaunt into Angry Birds Seasons during commercials. I have no doubt an Android tablet could have been substituted in without too much strain — I am not trying to favour one platform over another here — but there is something exciting about the iPad not only immersing itself into the hands of one person, but staying useful amongst a large group of people, all of whom are engaged in something else.

Some brands, though not in Canada, were using the iPad to interact with their commercials. Chevrolet released an iPad and Android app to follow along with its multiple ads, while the official Superbowl app for both platforms provided real-time stats and highlights throughout the game. It’s the ability to use a branded app and still feel empowered and not merely a potential sale that will keep companies creating these kinds of products.

More than anything, this was the first year I saw mobile technology truly and seamlessly integrated into the Superbowl-watching experience. Whether it was someone’s girlfriend reading out Twitter responses to Madonna’s half-time show on her Galaxy S II, or a buddy recalling on his iPad how the John Carter and Battlefield commercials look identical, for me it was the culmination of years of mobile growth.

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