Monday, July 26, 2010

A New Demographic For the iPad

So I was sitting with my soon-to-be-ninety-year old mother in her room at Our Island Home, trying to teach her how to use her new lap-top. I had already failed with the iPod – the concept of turning a dial with your finger tip to scroll down a list may seem ‘organic’ and ‘intuitive’ to my twenty-five year old son. For his grandmother it’s simply impossible. The main problem overlaps with our laptop computer conundrum: she just doesn’t have the manual dexterity to spin a dial precisely, or guide a cursor from a touch pad. She has no conceptual difficulty – she’s no Luddite. She used the big Apple desktop computer my brother bought for her in Long Beach. She cruised the internet, e-mailed her friends, even downloaded the occasional symphony on iTunes. She could handle a mouse in those days.

She still loves the game; she just can’t pass the physical.

As a result, she’s off-line and even more isolated from friends and family. The problem seemed insoluble, just one more checkmate in her on-going chess-game with mortality. But the solution was right in front of us. Tired of the lesson I said, “Can you just go to the X in the upper right hand corner and close the program?” She abandoned the touch pad and simply touched the X with her finger. Nothing happened of course, except inside my head. It was suddenly so obvious. Her intuitive response was to touch the screen. My mom needed an iPad It’s the perfect technology for her, eliminating the ordered, indirect commands and physical manipulation of the controls. Yes, computing has gotten so sophisticated, so intricate and complex, that it’s finally simple enough for my mother to use.

This is a huge breakthrough, a tremendous liberation. I called my brother; he agreed to buy the iPad. Mom should have it in a week or two. We’re very happy, but somehow I don’t think this little story will ever make it into an iPad commercial. This is definitely not the cool demographic Apple is trying to seduce. Yet for most of the prosperous, college-educated consumers Apple covets – people who own a smart phone and a laptop and even a Kindle – there’s no real use for the gorgeous tablet computer, except as a high-end toy. The text doesn’t use e-ink; the movies are hard to watch in certain light, they don’t synch well to other machines, won’t charge with a USB connection to a PC … etc etc. None of that matters to my mother, for whom simplicity and ease of use trump every other consideration. It’s a shame Apple can’t run an ad about this – ‘The Computer for People Who Hate Computers” or “Think Young” or maybe, best of all -- “The Little old Lady from Cuppertino” (I’m sure Jan and Dean would go along, for a free iPad or two of their own).

I can’t get the song out of my head: go granny, go granny, go granny go.

Thanks to the brand new shiny red super stock dodge of a tablet computer, the granny in my family is on her way.


Joe Iriarte said...

That's really cool. I've had a tablet for years--not the glossy, trendy iPad, but a tablet PC that swivels out to reveal a full keyboard. It has always frustrated me to see Apple repeatedly claim popular acclaim for inventing what already existed, but I think you've hit the nail on the head when you talk about senior citizens as a good demographic for them.

You're exactly right about its appeal for people of my age and technological proficiency: I wouldn't turn one down if it were given to me, but I see it as a toy, and one I'm not sure I have much use for. The lack of a real keyboard makes it less flexible than my tablet, the lack of a stylus makes it less useful as a teaching/presentation tool, and the use of a smartphone OS instead of a PC one makes it less powerful. But for someone with simpler needs who just wants something damn intuitive, yes, you're absolutely right.

On the other hand, from a marketing perspective, I bet there are a lot more people with disposable money for unneeded toys than elderly people who can see how the iPad would work for them. Apple is probably making the right choice in terms of their bottom line.

Pandora said...

Very often when I read you I find myself smiling and/or laughing out loud. I love this post, except for implying that being a Luddite would be a bad thing. go go, go granny go.