I saw the value proposition for travelers the first time I used one — during a layover in Minneapolis-Saint Paul last September.
If you’re stuck in an airport, you might as well do something useful, like order food, surf the Web or swear to your Facebook friends that you’ll never travel by air again the day before Thanksgiving.
OTG, a travel restauranteur with foodie pretensions, has bet heavily on the iPad, installing thousands on tables and bars in four of North America’s busiest airports: JFK, LGA, MSP and YYZ (Toronto). Last week the company announced plans to install 6,000 more in United Airlines’ terminal at EWR (Newark).
iPads offer a different value proposition for the food industry, and not just in airports. I suspect The Verge’s Josh Dzieza has nailed it:
Beneath the glitzy new hardware, OTG is using iOS to automate its restaurants’ workflows. When you buy something, OTG’s software, called Flo, sends the order directly to an iPad in the kitchen. You pay either with frequent flier miles or with a credit card, swiped at a reader on the table. When the order is up, the kitchen notifies a server through an iPod touch each employee carries. If an order doesn’t get picked up in a timely manner, the system pings the entire staff. “We have accountability every step of the way to make this a much more efficient process,” says OTG’s Albert Lee.
As more elements of restaurant and retail work have been automated, it’s created new opportunities for employee monitoring — if software is telling workers what tasks to do, it’s easy for it to also tell someone whether those tasks have been done. Managers like it because it provides data on individual performance and creates pressure for employees to pitch customers harder. Of course, it also raises concerns about surveillance of employees.
I took this snapshot of airport iPads in use — or at least available for use — at the Delta terminal in Minneapolis.
The other photos come from OTG’s site. They’re a kind of travel porn: No crowds, no baggage, endless seating, screens aplenty.
Click to enlarge.
Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.