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iPads on the menu as airport restaurateur goes hi-tech

Nationwide restaurant operator OTG is deploying more than 7,000 third-generation iPads at its eateries located in three international air hubs after recognizing a strong demand for entertainment in the normally staid airport environment.

The firm is turning a year-and-a-half-long pilot program into a working business model complete with centralized device management and proprietary apps that allow customers to use Apple's iPad to order food, track flights, play games and surf the web. There's even a "help" button to call wait staff over to your table.

OTG CEO Rick Blatstein believes that the rollout is the largest consumer deployment of iPads in the world and is only bested by Apple itself in the Mac maker's retail outlets.

"We're starting with seven plus thousand rolling out," Blatstein told AppleInsider. "But as we continue to roll out I expect it to be in the tens of thousands and maybe in excess of 100,000 in the coming years."

The company is currently replacing the test program's first-generation iPads with current models and so far about 400 of an expected 2,000 units have been rolled out at restaurants in New York's LaGuardia Airport. Within the next 18 months an additional 2,500 tablets will be deployed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport while another 2,500 are slated for installation at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

According to Blatstein, the iPad is the perfect travel companion for airport-goers as many people are already familiar with Apple's iOS.

"They're fun, they're comfortable to work with and now with the [Retina Display], the screen quality is spectacular," the chief executive said of the iPad. "It's a natural."

OTG's system currently uses a suite of custom software to bring the "iPad experience" to the airport, including an app that works in the background to constantly update travelers with information regarding their flights.

OTG's proprietary iPad app suite. | Source: OTG

All devices run a per-use security system that clears device history with a click of the home button, affording users protected web access to check bank accounts, Facebook profiles and other sensitive data. The network also sports a central management feature that can push out new firmware and update menu items across OTG's vast network within minutes.

Future app plans include a storefront to purchase various items like travel pillows and headphones that would be immediately available upon checkout.

Blatstein also mentioned that his company's iPad deployment could be a boon for indie app makers, noting that OTG is on the lookout for developers to create software for its installed customer base.

"We certainly welcome indie app makers," Blatstein said, adding "everybody starts somewhere and lots of people have wonderful, wonderful ideas so we would certainly welcome them and put it in front of our customers."

The apps would indeed have a showcase as the installation is designed to put the customer directly in front of the iPad, which can be taken off a custom stand much like product displays at the Apple Store. Originally, the device was fixed in place but feedback from testers during the pilot phase found the implementation clunky.

OTG Layout
Floor layout of an OTG restaurant with deployed iPads. | Source: OTG

While the initial 7,000+ unit rollout won't be complete for over a year, Blatstein envisions a time when every seat at every OTG restaurant will have an iPad. Completing the picture will be AC outlets with USB ports to charge portable devices while customers eat and lounge.

"No more sitting on floors like we've always done to try and charge up our devices," Blatstein quips. "You can sit at a bar; sit at a table and charge your device. You can work on the iPad and really enjoy yourself. Get your time back."