Ready or not… the folks at WestlawNext seem to think that the iPad and other touch-based, tablet-style computers are here to stay and will be making a significant impact in online usage in the next 18-24 months. Mike Dahn, WestlawNext VP of Product Development, gave a few snapshots to a group of Houston law librarians yesterday of the upcoming WLN App for the iPad, and it looked pretty good. The app is supposed to be out in the Fall of 2010 and offer a lot of the functionality (touch, scroll, flip, and rotate) that the iPad users see in other products.

Mike admitted that the iPad isn’t really a great platform for “creating content” (such as writing a 20 page brief), but that it is a great platform for conducting legal research and reading the material. Some of the screenshots we saw show a dual-column format that is set up to mimic how you would read the text in a book. Unlike the web-browser version of dual-column (where you might have to scroll up and down each column because it ran off the bottom of the screen, the iPad version should format exactly to the screen and allow you to then turn the page using your finger.

It seems that more and more programs are going to be “app-based” (what we used to call software), and if we’re going to get into the same issues that caused us to get off of Westlaw and Lexis’ software based programs. I’d bet that some of those legacy software programs are probably still on the base PC install at some firms. (Go check your “Research Applications” tab on your Windows “Start” menu to see if they’re still there!)

Time will tell if the coolness factor, and the usability factor make this a long-term situation, or if we are seeing a flash-in-the pan type products that will loose their shine the first time that the IT department tells the user that they’ll have to fix the problem with the iPad themselves because the iPad is not supported by the firm. WestlawNext seems to be betting that the iPad and other tablet-based devices are here to stay. I think they may be on the right side of that bet. I wonder how long it will take Lexis and Bloomberg to also place a bet on iPad apps??