iPad for Senior Citizens

I’ve been seeing a lot of iPad usage around me. I know what you’re thinking, “Duhhh, Captain Obvious! You live in Silicon Valley and this is where Apple is headquartered. Yeah, I think you might see a few.”

Silicon Valley is loaded with top-tech talent. Devices and gadgets that only the top-talent stereotypes understand and thrive on is abundant around me. I don’t even blink an eye when I see Segway zooming by with a laptop strapped to the handle bars, touring it’s driver around the city while their Bluetooth stereo headset is connected to their smartphone, providing the audio portion of the tour, while also feeding directions to the Segway via it’s GPS.

Just another day in Silicon Valley.

There’s something different about these iPad sightings. One that pleasantly captivated my eye and brought a huge smile to my soul. These sightings didn’t involve your typical Silicon Valley geek. In fact, the stars of these sightings are usually the last people you would expect to see or ever associate with the word, “technology.”

And I love it.

I was having lunch with a colleague and noticed an elderly gentleman, well into his eighties, sitting at the bar with a Martini in one hand while streaming some NetFlix videos to his iPad laying down on the bar.

Is streaming new?

How about the ability to watch videos on a computer, is that new?

The type of person performing this task was.

Apple has done something magical here with the iPad. They bridged what many would say was an impossible chasm. All joking aside, we do everything we can to minimize the technology in the lives of the senior citizens closest to us. The remote control for the television can instill the fear of God into them when they’re looking for the volume or channel button amongst the 40 or 50 buttons on the remote control. DVR? Don’t waste your money, they’ll never use it because it’s a foreign and complicated mental model for them.

Another sighting. At my gym I saw an elderly lady on the treadmill reading a book. Not just any book. Her iPad was sitting in front of her with the Kindle application running and the font size was probably set at 96 points as I read along with her from the other side of the gym.

Watching these people use their iPad I didn’t see the awkwardness and hesitation you normally see from them when using a laptop or desktop computer. They were, dare I say it, “at ease” with it.

Why is that?

All of the typical items that frighten senior citizens who are new to using computers are not present with an iPad. Let’s start with the mouse. My mother won’t even try to use a computer because of the mouse. She couldn’t comprehend or understand what to do when the mouse reached the end of the mouse pad, but her cursor was only halfway across the screen to her destination. She didn’t make that mental connection between what was happening onscreen versus what the device she was directly manipulating had on one another. When I told her to pickup the mouse and move it back to the other side of the mousepad, she just stared at me blankly.

“Well, if I move the mouse it will move the doo-hickey thing on the television screen and I’ll be back in the same position.”

“No, Mom. That will only happen if the mouse is touching the mouse pad. You can pickup the mouse and if it’s not touching the mouse pad, the sensor on the bottom of the mouse won’t detect the movement and therefore won’t move the mouse on the screen so you can move the mouse without moving the cursor … never mind, just trust me.”

What we take for granted is pure magic to them. It’s a mouse for us, but it’s a 747 flight deck to them.

Removing that middle-man translation and adopting the touch screen is much easier for them to understand. Want to launch email, just tap on it with your finger. Done. They get that. That makes complete sense to them.

Another reason is software installation. The App Store on an iPad compared to shopping and installing software for a typical computer is night and day. Easy access to the App Store, seamless purchasing and installation without introducing more confusing questions and concepts such as, “Where on your hard drive do you want to install this new fancy software?” or “Make sure you have enough hard drive space on the destination drive before proceeding?” mean nothing to them.

App Store, tap to buy, screen automatically moves to the new application icon that is installing. Tap to open. They can do that. They get that. That makes sense to them.

And to get them started, you should pick up a copy of iPad For Seniors For Dummies for them.

About the author

Terry Blanchard

I'm the Vice President of Engineering at Readdle, ex-Apple, design evangelist, drummer, and gadget junkie extraordinaire.

2 thoughts on “iPad for Senior Citizens”

  1. Very interesting. Explains the confused new-users in senior computer classes. Don’t think seniors have been targeted by retail to bypass buying computers. Most folks only want them for photos and EMails. They are still trying to figure out their GPS too.

  2. The new iPad 2 has GPS built right into it. For what they want to do, an iPad would be a great device for them. All of their needs in one amazing little package.

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