There’s not many toys that will hold the attention of a one-and-a-half year old and a 95 year old equally well – but Apple Inc.’s tablet is definitely one of them.

I have been using a loaned iPad from Apple Canada for about a week now (I won’t be the first tech journalist to review it, but better late than never) and the accessibility it offers to computing beginners has impressed me. I’ve seen a friend’s little boy who is new to walking, let alone computing, engage with the device. In the same week, I’ve seen a great-grandmother who’s exceptionally bright and engaging, yet has never expressed an interest in “learning the Internet”, be drawn in to playing with several apps.

My friend’s toddler quickly took to several iPad apps that were designed to introduce babies to music. His favourite was an app that presented a colourful piano keyboard that could play either musical notes, barnyard animal sounds, or both at once (the latter caught the most interest). This kid doesn’t even know what the difference between a sheep and a goat is, yet that didn’t prove a problem in tapping away on the virtual piano keys on the iPad.

Another friend’s grandmother also took to the tablet (“I’m reviewing the 64 GB, Wi-Fi only version,” I told her. She nodded politely.) Within a couple of minutes of being introduced to the device, she was playing Scrabble, listening to podcasts, and reading an e-mail message. “I’d like to get one of these,” she said. She looked like an iOS pro in less than half-an-hour. This from someone who’s never expressed an interest in sitting down in front of a PC.

Seeing how accessible the iPad is to new computer users changed my mind about the way Apple designs its devices. I had always considered the absence of a hard keyboard a detriment to the iPhone and the iPad. But now I realize that to those who’ve never used a mouse and keyboard, those peripherals are huge psychological barriers to using a PC. With the iPad, all you need is an index finger that can point and you’re ready to go.

Both the toddler and great-grandmother alike didn’t have to think about using the iPad as a device. Rather, they just interacted with the application at hand.

That being said, the touch-pad keyboard was the worst part of the user experience for my guinea pigs at opposite ends of the age spectrum. Since the toddler didn’t know his ABCs yet, we skipped showing him the keyboard. The great-grandmother (she looks young enough to be just a grandmother) had used a typewriter, but still pecked away at the letters and made several errors in her first attempts.

But there are solutions in sight for these problems. Using Google’s mobile app on the iPad, I can conduct an Internet search using a voice command. With Dragon Dictation’s amazing free iPad app, I can dictate long notes that can be sent as e-mails or posts to social networks (and it is actually very accurate). It’s easy to imagine this voice-activation being even more integrated into the iPad, improving its accessibility for the young, old and even the visually impaired.

So those of us who scoff at the iPad as being an unneeded toy in the over-saturated technology marketplace need to remember those who don’t take computer literacy for granted. After all, Luddites should have computers they can use too.

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  • Janjan

    My parents (in their 70/80’s) got one and are totally amazed with it. Of course they phone me all the time asking me how to do this or do that – or how come it doesn’t work.

  • Great post Brian. Do you happen to have the name of the app you mentioned with the “colourful piano keyboard that could play either musical notes, barnyard animal sounds, or both at once?” I would love to get something like that for my daughter. Thanks!

    • Yes, that app was “Baby Piano HD Lite”. There’s also a full version for $1.99.