Home iPad: The First Real Family Computer

iPad: The First Real Family Computer

With the iPad’s arrival this weekend, a holiday weekend for many Americans, this new iPad owner had the chance to see the device in action. In fact, “see” is the operative word here. Not, “play with myself,” as is the case with most new tech gadgets I purchase. Instead, I simply watched from a distance as, over the course of the day, the iPad found its way into the hands of nearly every family member from ages 4 months to 87 years old. The incredible thing? No one walked away confused, frustrated or disappointed. It did precisely what they wanted it to do and with such ease that my tech support was not required – not even once – allowing me to sit back and relax…with an old-fashioned, paper-based magazine.

After hearing the hoopla from the iPad launch, the crowd of “not-so-early” adopters has likely been left wondering if this is a case of media over-hype or if something revolutionary has truly occurred. If you count yourself among this group, then perhaps the spec-filled, analytical reviews won’t sell you on the device’s potential.

You already know what the iPad can do: apps, games, eBooks (or rather, iBooks), media and so on. But what can it do for you? How does it fit in with your life? This anecdotal review may help you to answer that question:

A Day in the Life of an iPad

The morning after the iPad’s arrival – incidentally Easter Sunday here in the U.S. – I spent the first half hour of my day with the iPad in one hand and a baby bottle in the other. While the little one ate, I read the New York Times. For free. Well, at least some of it. Although a full-featured paid application is on its way, the “Editor’s Choice” app available now is a great way to hit the highlights from the paper’s top sections. The iPad’s weight here was a bit of an issue – 1.5 pounds may not seem like a lot, but holding it aloft away from baby’s grabby fingers was a bit tricky, especially because, unlike an actual, dull grey-colored newspaper, the iPad’s glowing screen and colorful images is an invite to touch that can’t be denied.

Morning Newspaper

Later, in the car to the family gathering, I finished reading the articles I missed in the NYT’s offline mode. I have the Wi-Fi version of the iPad, so Internet access is limited. But the articles were still available, cached to the device for just this situation. I then passed the time with a game of iMahjong. Like most iPad games, Internet isn’t needed to play.

Upon arrival at our destination – the sister-in-law’s house where extended family would meet, dine and relax, I mistakenly imagined that the only two people who would be interested in my latest purchase were the teenage nephews, already iPod Touch owners and avid gamers. Although they were immediately engrossed, to be sure, they weren’t the only ones who would spend time with this new device, as I would later find out.

Game-Playing Device

The first question from the oldest nephew: “I heard iPad apps are a lot more expensive than those for the iPod Touch – is that true?” Unfortunately, it is. For whatever reason, iPad developers have mistakenly assumed that a bigger screen means a bigger price tag. This is not how the minds of penny-pinching, allowance-earning tweens and teens think, though. And although they may not be the target market per se, their moms and dads are. A game priced too high will simply be ignored – or worse, torrented, the nephews tell me. There are plenty of iPhone apps on torrent sites, I’m being told – referring to the online stores of cracked, hacked and otherwise ill-acquired software programs, movies, TV shows, music and media made available for download for those running free torrenting client applications on their computers. iPad apps will soon appear here, too. Should developers be worried about this black market for their super-sized creations? Yes, possibly. Unlike the more moderately priced iPhone apps, iPad apps can be much more expensive. And if their prices extend beyond the comfort levels of today’s consumers, you can be sure the apps will leak out on backchannels such as these.

With pricing in mind, I tell the nephews they could download anything they wanted so long as it was free. And so they set forth upon their iPad adventure. After playing a number of games, including the Guitar Hero-like “Tap Tap Radiation,” a tilted maze in “Labyrinth Lite,” the role-playing game “Aurora Feint 3,” some sort of shoot-em-up called “EliminatePro,” and several others, my iPad was soon filled with a screen of apps I knew I’d never touch but would be regularly accessed time and again at subsequent family functions.

Child’s Plaything

Once the older nephews had their fill, it was the 5-year-old’s turn. With adult supervision, he enjoyed Disney’s interactive book app, Toy Story and created works of art fingerpaint-style via Doodle Buddy. (He got a real kick out of the sound effects that accompanied the paste-in clip art in the program, too. Animal sounds, apparently, are incredibly funny).

We mistakenly thought that the Marvel comics book application would also be a fun diversion for this second-youngest of the family. (Don’t laugh – comic book aficionados we are not.) But after a second-page reference to “Girls Gone Wild” in the free Spiderman comic and a third-page image of our favorite superhero shouting “Shut the @#*% up!,” we realized that, at some point, comics must have grown up. These one-time children’s past-times are now adult graphic novels. Oops. App closed. Back to doodling.

Grandma’s Photo Album

Later, with bellies stuffed by Easter ham and dessert, the iPad found its way to the baby’s grandmother. One guess what she looked at? Yes, baby pictures. “Can you email me some of those later?” Of course I could, but not later, now. Like the iPhone and iPod Touch, photos (a max of 5 at a time) can be sent directly from the iPad’s built-in Photos application.

…And Everything Else

Now hours had gone by, and the iPad was still in circulation. With nothing else to do, I opened a wrinkled, balled-up magazine I had thrown into my bag precisely for this reason. I didn’t expect to get much iPad-time myself, I just didn’t realize that it would literally never return to me. As one person played on the iPad – reading, watching a video, playing a game, etc. – others relaxed with TV, a book of Sodoku puzzles, toys, and (gasp!) even printednewspapers.

On the iPad, someone was playing cards. Then someone was watching Netflix. Grandma is showing great-grandma more photos. Look! The baby is doodling! Now someone is trying an iPhone app on the iPad. (Verdict? Not a good experience. Forget the fact that the iPad runs all the iPhone apps – they look awful. Don’t bother.) Interestingly enough, one “app” that was never launched was Safari, the iPad’s built-in web browser.

By nightfall, the iPad had been in rotation for hours upon hours and still had nearly 40% battery remaining. The battery longevity claims (10 hours+) are true, it seems.

A Family Computer

Debates about the iPad’s worth as an eReader, aside, fears that it will somehow transform us from a population of content creators to passive consumers (most of us already are just that), hopeful claims from big media that it’s the “future of publishing” – I’d argue that none of these are reasons to buy or not to buy an iPad.

Simply put: the iPad is the first real family computer. No longer is computing an isolated experience with one person staring at one screen, fingers clacking away on the keyboard while the rest of the family does something else. The iPad was shared between brothers, giggled over by children, and downright snuggled up with by parent and child. It was no more isolating an experience than someone reading the paper in the next chair over. It was easily just another everyday object. And that may be its biggest selling point yet: the iPad hides away the technology, and makes content king. And at the end of the day, that’s not really such a bad thing.

Disclosure: The New York Times is a syndication partner with ReadWriteWeb.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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