While the country wrestles with a host of uncertainties this year, one thing is for certain: Cool technology is back. No, not another wave of dot-com hyped visions that are mostly smoke and mirrors. Rather, mobile technology has gained luster in the otherwise floundering IT marketplace and for good reason. The technology isn't just cool; it works.

For that reason, we have highlighted one of the most interesting innovations in this issue.

Tablet PCs were introduced last year with the usual hype and promise -- not to mention skepticism. These handheld computers, which run Microsoft's Windows operating system and use handwriting recognition software for more versatility in the field, are gaining wide acceptance in both the commercial and public sector.

We've already mentioned their use in a number of pilot projects (see January's Mobile Government), but this time we're presenting the technology itself, its features, costs and types of applications currently available. Jim Sideris, managing director of BearingPoint, boldly said that it's not a question of which government agency is interested in using the tablet, but which isn't.

The tablet PC is just one innovation among many initiatives, trends and projects that are under way and signaling newfound interest in a technology that is getting smaller, cheaper and more versatile. Nothing underscores the growing role of wireless than Intel's bold investment in a number of new technologies that will support this trend. The world's largest chipmaker introduced a microprocessor tailored to support mobile technology, and has poured money into initiatives that will make wireless computing more accessible than ever.

How are all these tech trends affecting state and local government? While it's still too early to tell just how deeply and broadly government will embrace wireless, some signs of interest go beyond mere curiosity. While many are focusing on its potential in the fields of public safety and inspections, we take a peek around the bend and look at how agencies are using wireless to cope with fleet management, bring down prescription costs in state Medicaid programs and seed local governments with wireless GIS applications.

Turning wireless technology into a ubiquitous tool that seamlessly integrates both field data and field worker with the office environment isn't going to be easy. Nor will wireless networks proliferate simply because we want them to. But there's a growing recognition in government that many workers need the flexibility of accessing and sharing data away from the desktop PC.

As our report on wireless LANs points out, mobile technology can significantly boost worker productivity when implemented correctly.

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.