Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Successful Experiment

"Heinz, you now see, what I see."

A few months ago I reported how my Israeli parents finally took the plunge and got themselves a computer. Following my advice, which relied on their total computer illiteracy and their lack of confidence with the English language, they got themselves an iPad. The iPad not only delivered them an as simple as it gets computing platform, it also delivered them their Internet connection through its 3G capability. Through one small 10” tablet, my parents now have themselves a portal to the great big virtual world.
One of the primary reasons my parents wanted a computer was to be able to have video calls with us Aussies through Skype. As if by coincidence, Skype released its dedicated iPad app just a couple of weeks before I arrived at Israel for a visit (and for setting my parents’ iPad up). Since our return to Australia a couple of weeks ago we had several Skype video chats; my parents also had similar chats with my brother.
Based on our limited experience thus far it already seems as if the iPad is a great success story. Having a video connection makes a huge difference in numerous ways. For a start, my four year old is now seeing his grandparents on a regular basis; in contrast, upon our arrival to Israel less than a month ago but during the pre-iPad age they were, effectively, total strangers. What’s more, connecting to his grandparents from the familiar environment of our home seems to make him more confident: it works better, at least by him. There are other advantages: English to Hebrew language barriers are more easily broken when video is added on top of the audio of a regular phone call.
I know it sounds odd, but I even feel as if I have talked to my parents more over the last couple of weeks through Skype than I did during the couple of weeks I was there. I believe the reason is simple: when Skyping, everyone feels obliged to talk; during our physical visit my parents were more inclined to do whatever it is they normally do when we’re not around (oddly enough, that last observation applies to my parents in law just the same).
My own experience was duplicated with my brother. He reported helping my father throughout the entire weekend’s crossword over Skype. Quality time with our parents never came better than this, and I am saying that in total seriousness.
Expanding the discussion away from the scope of my parents and I, it is interesting to note that other members on the English side of my family have tried video Skying with us in the past. They all encountered technical difficulties here and there and quickly gave up on the idea. The lesson I take from this is simple: Apple should do more to push its iPad on people who are not that technically inclined. If it takes an iPad for the non geeks out there in order to be able to properly video Skype then sell them iPads, damn it!
If anything, Apple should definitely try to offer the iPad as a simple and safe computing alternative for the elderly. They won’t do it, out of fear of ruining their cool image, but they should.

Having done Apple the privilege of identifying new market segments it can sell to, let me point out one market segment it probably won't be selling to in the near future.
My experience of setting my father’s iPad up made me realize one simple truth. An iPad is a nice gadget, and I would happily buy one for $100 or so; but for anything other than that I simply do not want one.
I can explain my position with two arguments. First, an iPad is a contents consumption device whereas I spend a lot of my computing time creating contents. Contents creation means one needs more sophisticated features than the iPad offers, as well as a good keyboard.
Second, most of my contents consumption time is spent through heavy browsing: multiple tabs open here and there, quick skipping between this tab and the other, some Flash action, with music playing through Spotify/Pandora/Grooveshark/some Internet radio station all the while. The iPad’s offerings in this department are severly limited compared to what any of my Linux (and even Windows) running PCs can offer.
An iPad is ultra portable, but it’s not for me.

Image by spieri_sf, Creative Commons license

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