The Case for iPad 2: Will My 80-Year-Old Mum Use It?

Job’s ended his keynote introducing the iPad 2 on Wednesday saying, “technology alone is not enough, that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.” It’s an important point that gets missed in all the noise and hype and features lists from all the tablet PCs introduced over the past year and going back over ten years. My first thought was whether this was something that might meet the needs of my 80-year-old mom in Arizona. See, my mom cares nothing for the latest or greatest, but to her computers have pretty much not been worth the effort since I set her up with one of my hand-me-down PCs about 14-years ago. All she does is email and occasionally attempt to print out photos for her children and grandchildren, so you’d think that that wouldn’t be a big deal. But like I said, it’s been largely a missed opportunity for her.

Having watched her pattern of usage (or the lack thereof) over the years I’m anxious to see if the iPad (version 2) can meet her needs in a way that other PCs have not (including the mac mini she currently has). It comes down to down to three basic ideas:

  1. Reliability/Simple UI
  2. Usable-in-any-room
  3. Value-Add/Worth the effort

Reliability/Simple UI


It’s a mistake that almost every geek makes when they decide to pass on their older systems to siblings and elders, to assume that because the siblings’ and elders’ needs are less complicated that a hand-me-down system will do. The problem with this assumption is that those of us who use computers every day for hours on end for years on end have no idea how much we put up with when it comes to tech-troubles. We’re unaware of what a pain in the ass technology tends to be. We’ve been doing it for so long that it doesn’t even consciously register for most of us anymore. Such is not the case if the recipient of our hand-me-down gear is a tech novice or tech phobic. Every unexpected beep or boop is another excuse not to use the thing or requires a tech-support call to yours truly. So, the computer has to be rock-solid, uncomplicated, with the simplest UI (user interface) possible and still get the job done.

For my mom that meant getting her off of the hand-me-down PCs and buying her a mac-mini. That solved most of the reliability problems but there have been some UI problems because she got used to the PC way of doing things. And since I’ve moved to Florida mom’s main tech-helper, my older sister, is a PC-die-hard and her “fixes” have tended to leave mom confused about what she did wrong. Consequently, when mom runs into problems it “encourages” her to just not use the thing. That would be a FAIL.

When I was visiting over Christmas I showed her my iPad, but couldn’t really get her to play with the thing. Taking on learning a new device is very much like learning a new language and one cannot learn a new language over a weekend. So, as intuitive as the device may be and there are few computing devices as intuitive as the iPad, it still requires using it enough to get over whatever learning trauma one may have had at the hands of previous computer platforms. So we have to free the usage of the device from former habit of where and how we used to use our computers.


My mom has a computer room set up in one of the spare bedrooms. I have no real idea how frequently she might go there to check her email but I do know that when it doesn’t work it’s a simple matter of just ignoring the room until one of us asks her if she got our last message. So, how about we reverse the pattern and instead of her visiting the computer room every once in a great wall, let’s take the “computer” and have it on the couch where she spends most of her evenings, or the kitchen table where dad reads his paper every morning. Let’s make her routine of checking email be as easy as picking up a book and catching up where one left off.

She could accomplish the “usable-in-any-room” requirement with any laptop, netbook or tablet. But remember the objective is to keep things simple enough that her focus isn’t on learning how to use computers as much as not thinking about the device and just checking emails or photos of her kids and grandkids. Besides, having a 10-hour battery life, which few other devices offer, really makes the thing something that one can spent time with in any room at any time.

Value-Add/Worth the effort

As much as it might seem to those who know me that I get all of the latest tech because I’m in dire need of a 12-step program, I think long and hard about how all of the pieces need to work together and whether it’s worth it to me given the expense. So, I have no expectation that anyone should use this stuff unless there’s a real reason that’s important enough for them to make the effort. That’s been part of my frustration with how technology hasn’t met my mom’s relatively simple needs.

One thing that I’m keenly aware of, living across the country from my family, is how much better it is whenever we’ve used our iSight cameras and I’ve called in to some family event on the West Coast and had conversations with these faces that I’ve known all of my life. It’s so much better than being on the phone getting passed around the room, a peripheral voice that’s not really part of what’s happening. Alas, prior video-phone “solutions” have been way too complicated, requiring there be geeks on both ends of the call to set things up. For me, and I’m hoping mom, FaceTime and the built in cameras are the killer app for iPad 2. I mean, if we can’t have jet-cars, the least we can do is easily connect with our loved one across the world with a simple click on the FaceTime button and then be speaking with a familiar face.

March 11

There are enough changes from version 1 to version 2 that I will probably get one for myself, but I’m going to get one for mom first. I know that I’m probably going to have to do some instructional videos for her first, just to get her up to speed, but that is part of the fun of what I do. I spend a lot of time knocking these things around and separating the wheat from the chaff (and believe me, there’s a lot of chaff), and finding the stuff worthy of sharing with those whom I care about (and will have to do tech support with, if I get it wrong… ack!). It’s great when one can see the human potential beyond the technology in one’s hands.

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