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An iPad for my mother, the computer newbie?
June 21, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

My mom wants a simple computer for internet use, email and word processing, and she's interested in an iPad. The question: would this work? The problem: she's computer illiterate. (Related question: any good systems for teaching an older newbie about computers?) More details inside.

Background: my brother and I are the technical/computer savvy ones of the family, trouble-shooting and suggesting appropriate things to buy. My parents are late to the computer age, and even though my father has been using computers with what seems to be decent skill for a few years, he still doesn't know some of the basics (copy and pasting was new territory to him last month, which was surprising for me).

My mother has left computers to their own devices, for fear of mucking things up. My dad bought her a new laptop with Windows 7 for Christmas, and my brother spent a few days trying to teach her how to turn it on and run basic applications. Unfortunately, she didn't use it much, and now my dad is using it on the road for work. My parents also have a nice big iMac G5 (cinema display style, used), as he was fond of the old G4 (lamp-style) that died a while back. Even though it's sitting at home, she doesn't use it.

The questions: could an iPad be a suitable "beginner computer" for my mother, or maybe a way to nudge her into "standard" computer usage (relationship between applications and files, management of files and folders, etc)? Should she try to use the iMac? Are there any good systems for teaching my mother how to use computers without my brother or I walking her through every step? I love to help her, but she'd need a few intensive weeks of assistance, judging from past attempts at getting her onto the laptop. My father isn't always the best teacher, and I'd like for my mom to learn good computer habits and have a decent understanding of the system as she learns how to use it.
posted by filthy light thief to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'll be watching this thread with interest.

My first thought - what about signing her up for computer classes at the local adult ed center or library before investing in a computer? That would give her a safe space to learn (and not have to worry about your Dad) and decide if she really wants a computer.
posted by canine epigram at 10:16 AM on June 21, 2010


I don't understand why you want to nudge your mother towards a "real computer." How will she benefit from understanding the file system and the relationship between applications and files?

Your mom wants to be able to send and receive e-mail. The iPad will be great for that.

Your mom wants to be able to surf the web. The iPad will be great for that (modulo Flash, but in my experience that's not a big deal).

You say your mom wants to do word processing. Depending on what the specific requirements are, the iPad could be fine. Printing is the big missing piece right now, but apparently that will be corrected at some point in the future.

It strikes me that the iPad is exactly what someone like your mom wants, and would be much more appropriate than a real computer.
posted by alms at 10:20 AM on June 21, 2010


The ipad works real well for the uses you list, email, internet, word processing, however it does not have a user operated file system in the normal sense. It runs the same operating system as the iphone/itouch. I would not suggest it as a way of teaching someone, or weaning someone, to a "standard" desktop operating system.

Maybe you could try a trial subscription to Lynda.com, which has great instructional videos.
posted by travis08 at 10:20 AM on June 21, 2010


iMac probably, iPad probably not. If this newest endeavor hits the same wall, I feel it'd be better to try it on equipment you've already got rather than lashing out the grand or so for an iPad (or however much they cost).

What jumps out at me is that she learned how to use a Windows 7 PC and then didn't use it; there is an iMac in her house that she also doesn't use. Is this really fear, or is she at all interested in learning how to use a computer?

If you want her to learn good computer habits, I'd suggest trying to figure out how to get her to want to. My parents, for example, were woefully computer inept, but then they realized that they can be used to send and receive family photos and keep in touch with old schoolmates and that was the fuse that lit the fire. This past weekend my mom proudly showed off her new smartphone, and all the cool things it can do, to the assembled kin. A person will learn about something they're interested in much, much faster than they would something that feels like an obligation. But your mileage - as they say - may vary.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:22 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


get a ipad but also get a physical keyboard attachment or dock for it.
you'll probably have to teach her the basics of what cloud computing means and how to use that.
posted by Bwithh at 10:23 AM on June 21, 2010


I think this is a perfect sweet spot for the iPad. It's not awesome for word processing IMHO, but for simply connecting--to the Internet, to others via email--I think it is hard to beat for its intuitiveness and simplicity.

My 70 year old dad has always been computer saavy--the first computer in our house was a Heathkit he built--but I expect that I'll soon be getting him an iPad because given what most people do with a computer there's no reason you shouldn't be able to do it while comfortably sitting on the couch.

I'm no Apple fanboy, but I firmly believe that the iPad (and the dozens of similar devices we'll see by Christmas) is what the future of "computers" looks.
posted by donovan at 10:23 AM on June 21, 2010


(relationship between applications and files, management of files and folders, etc)

The iPad will not teach her the distinction between apps, files and folders, because this is hidden from the user. But is that -- essentially, computer fundamentals -- the purpose of the exercise? Or does she just want to surf the damn web and check her damn e-mail? I rather suspect that if she's computer illiterate at this point, she just wants to get online.

There's an important distinction, I think, between helping her use a computer and helping her know how to use a computer. Computer usage as a means, not as an end in and of itself.

Analogy: she just wants to get from point A to point B; that doesn't necessarily mean (in ascending order of difficulty) that she wants or even needs to (a) learn how to drive, (b) learn how to drive a stick shift, or (c) learn how to be an auto mechanic.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:24 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Apple Stores have "one-to-one" training that have worked wonders for my parents. My parental-tech-support call load has decreased from about one per month, to about 2 per year. My mom made her own iMovie movie like a year ago, without telling anyone she was working on it; the other day she asked me (in so many words!) to create a CNAME so her personal domain can use mobileme webspace.

From what I hear, the iPad sounds great, but I haven't yet heard any actual anecdotes about it working for this. It seems like just the thing though. iOS does have a very different approach to those "standard" things like files and folders, though, so it wouldn't be an effective way to nudge her into that. But it could be an effective way to get her to actually accomplish things.

My question is, does your mother have reasons to use the computer? It sounds like she's not lacking for hardware. Are there things she wants to do but is intimidated, or does she just want to ride around on her motorcycle and do origami?
posted by xueexueg at 10:25 AM on June 21, 2010


As one who has spent many fruitless hours attempting to teach my (now late) grandfather, who was a brilliant scientist(who wrote programs using punchcards!), about modern computers, I feel that trying to teach your mom about files and applications, etc, is a lost cause. The iPad is an ideal product for your mom to use, simply because she doesn't have to learn about any of the underlying parts of the computer. It just works. Awesome. If she suddenly gets interested in computers, she already has both a decent mac and a windows 7 machine to work with. As a side note, my family is going to be getting an iPad for my grandmother for her 90th birthday, so she can see pictures of her great-grandchildren.
posted by rockindata at 10:30 AM on June 21, 2010


I got an iPad and an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard for my Dad. He's very happy with it. He can use the Internet, write emails directly on the screen, and he uses his keyboard with Pages to write longer things. He has no idea how it all works, and he couldn't care less - because it does just work. The hardest thing about an iPad is really people ilk US setting aside our long-held belief that to use a computer, you should understand what it's doing. As my Dad has taken to pointing out to his friends, "I don't know how the microwave works, but I damned well eat the popcorn!"

Also note that the Apple stores do take returns on the iPad. Why not just try it out for a week? If she's not happy with it, return it and get her a more traditional computer.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:36 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


What jumps out at me is that she learned how to use a Windows 7 PC and then didn't use it

Clarification: she didn't learn how to use the Win7 laptop. I think she was not comfortable to use it without my brother helping her.

what about signing her up for computer classes at the local adult ed center or library before investing in a computer?

Good idea - I think she may have been looking at them, or maybe even went to one or two of them, but I could be wrong.

I don't understand why you want to nudge your mother towards a "real computer."

What I imagine to be versatility, but I am speaking from my own comfort/understanding of computers. Being a tech-geek, I want her to be comfortable on someone else's computer with basic tasks. Also, she still wants to write a book on churches, so I can imagine her eventually using a word processing app that uses a standard file format, allows for formatting and mark-ups, and can be sent to someone else. It may be something that my mom and her brother work on together and never more than that, and I don't know if there is an app for the iPad that would support this effort with enough ease. Maybe I'm the one stuck with old notions, and maybe the iPad-style system is indeed the future of casual computing. I don't know, thus my questions =)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:41 AM on June 21, 2010


Is your mom going to be stymied by the iPad UI? I mean, if she can't use a mouse is she really going to get swiping and pinching and typing on glass? Maybe she will, but that seems like a part of the iOS experience that we younguns take for granted, and it may not be intuitive for everyone.
posted by cabingirl at 10:45 AM on June 21, 2010


My wife is not computer savvy but when she picked up the iPad, she was a pro in no time. I find myself using it more than my computer. I think this would be perfect for your situation.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:52 AM on June 21, 2010


I think, if a 2.5 year old can use the iPad, and a 100 year old can use the iPad, ... and a DOLPHIN can use the iPad, I think your mother should be fine.

I plan to use this argument one day for my own un-tech-savvy, immigrant parents to get an iPad. Still working on it.
posted by Seboshin at 10:57 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


The iPad in its current state might not quite be right, simply because Apple still treats it as a secondary device that needs a "real" computer to hook into—I believe that the first time you boot up an iPad, it shows you the "connect me to iTunes" icon.

It completely abstracts file management, so if you are hoping it will teach your mom about that, think again. And it really needs some kind of automated cloud-like file-synching doohicky--the process for getting files in and out is way too complicated, runs through iTunes (!?), and practically invites copying over new versions of files with old.

For lightweight use, probably fine. For collaboratively writing a book, probably not there yet. But I think it may be there someday soon.
posted by adamrice at 10:58 AM on June 21, 2010


"I don't know how the microwave works, but I damned well eat the popcorn!"

That is awesome and absolutely correct.

can imagine her eventually using a word processing app that uses a standard file format, allows for formatting and mark-ups, and can be sent to someone else. It may be something that my mom and her brother work on together and never more than that, and I don't know if there is an app for the iPad that would support this effort with enough ease.

If nothing else, Google Docs.

It's really hard for geeks like us (defined as "anyone who knows what a file system is") to understand that most computer users don't want to have to know or care what a file system is. They just want to get their files. They don't want to have to go through weeks of training, they just want to write documents. Your mom doesn't need "good computer habits and a decent understanding of the system," she needs a way to surf the web and write emails and documents.

The iPad is the first computer that's designed for people who are not geeks. Which means that to geeks it's going to look a bit limited, but to everyone else it's: finally I can have a computer I don't have to be afraid of.
posted by ook at 11:18 AM on June 21, 2010


Nthing the iPad suggestion.

Your mother will never learn to be a 'competent' computer user unless there is some compelling reason for her to do so. I think getting her on Facebook might be the thing that gets her to give computers a real shake - Facebook can be total crack for older people that want to keep up with children/grandchildren/family etc.

Learning computers requires large amounts of trial and error, and the only thing you can really do is attempt to ignite some passion for what the computer can do for her. The iPad will give her a simple and yet powerful environment to explore different things.

Think of the iPad as 'WebTV Done Right'. I think I'll be flogged for saying that, but the appliance like nature of the iPad reminds me of people that clung to their WebTV long after it was useful.
posted by Skrubly at 11:19 AM on June 21, 2010


I have an iPad and I teach seniors how to use computers. What leapt out for me was that SHE was interested in getting the iPad. That first step, the interest and the desire, is 99% of the challenge in teaching non-digital natives. The iPad is perfect for what she wants and is a great stepping stone to the iMac where she can do more word processing (although personally I do quite a bit of typing on the on-screen keypad.)
posted by saucysault at 11:21 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


she's interested in an iPad

That leapt out for me, too. All the other computers were ones other people were interested in for her and she doesn't use them. The fact that she's interested in the iPad is a good enough to get her one. Plus the iPad will probably be a good fit for most of what she wants to do. Get the keyboard dock if she's going to be doing word processing of more than email length.
posted by 6550 at 11:34 AM on June 21, 2010


I think the iPad was made for your mom.
posted by luriete at 11:41 AM on June 21, 2010


The ipad definitely needs to be monitored with a regular computer, but not that often. If it weren't for my podcast addiction and needing to delete stuff, I would rarely connect my iPod touch. (If the ipad has independent deletion, instead of just addition from iTunes, that would be great). As you note, your dad is using a mac; the ipad could be connected to that.

So long as the ipad can write to universal file types such as RTF or txt (or you or your father could convert the file types on the mac), there shouldn't be any problem with your mother composing her book on the ipad. Many writers still use pen or pencil & paper.
posted by jb at 12:21 PM on June 21, 2010


My Mom is computer-phobic.

At her home computer, I have carefully written out and laminated cards with instructions headed with titles like the following:

How to Save Documents in Word
Click "File" at the top of the screen
Click "Save" button.

My Dad bought an iPad a few months ago (he's a keen computer guy). My Mom, who calls me or him on average once a month to ask about how to check her email, immediately adopted the iPad, gave it a nickname (she doesn't like "iPad" and named it after her favorite writer), and is now inseparable from it. She took it with her on vacation last week (with my Dad). When Dad went home, Mom kept the iPad. She doesn't need tech support for it because it is brilliantly intuitive. She LOVES her iPad. The kids are considering buying Dad a new one because he no longer has an iPad. He can see it, but he can't use it. Because Mom is on it 24/7.

It's funny, she hasn't called for tech help (other than how to download apps) once for any reason since the iPad was purchased.

So...buy it for her. See what happens. My Mom went from a technology-illiterate person who was vaguely resentful of me and my Dad for being able to use computers to the Apple Genius in the family, cheerfully dispensing computer related advise to anyone in earshot.
posted by arnicae at 12:25 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


My fiancee has an ipad and i have a eeepc (netbook)

Netbook
Cheaper (by a lot) if she doesn't end up being satisfied with the netbook, she's out $250-$400 whereas and ipad will be at least double that.

Typing. ipad really isn't fantastic for word processing or longer emails. you'd really need an external keyboard, whereas a netbook has one built in.

ipad
Lighter: The ipad is slightly more portable. My net book is just under 3lbs and terribly small. The ipad is a bit lighter and thinner.

Apps: the ipad has some really cool apps. Probably even an instructional app.


My advise would be to take her to the apple store and see the ipad then take her somewhere to demo a netbook. Let her touch and feel and play with each one and see if that helps make a decision.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 1:12 PM on June 21, 2010


Thanks everyone! I tried one out again at the near-by Apple Store, and my level of GRAR at how the device works was lessened once I was told how the Pages app changes features based on landscape and page orientation. Next weekend I may go with my parents to an Apple store so Mom can play with one in person.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:14 PM on June 21, 2010


silkygreenbelly, I didn't preview and missed your comment. The price makes me freeze up a bit, too, especially seeing that my mom didn't take to the laptop that was supposed to be hers (though I figured Dad would end up using it to some degree). I think getting her a netbook would be repeating the efforts with the laptop, but on a smaller screen and smaller keys. I'll see if we can demo a keyboard for the iPad next weekend, because typing on it was not ideal for lengthy write-ups (at least in the setting of the Apple store).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:20 PM on June 21, 2010


My parents also have a nice big iMac G5 (cinema display style, used), as he was fond of the old G4 (lamp-style) that died a while back. Even though it's sitting at home, she doesn't use it.

An iPad will be just another in the long series of unused tech, why not do something productive with the money?

My dad bought her a new laptop with Windows 7 for Christmas, and my brother spent a few days trying to teach her how to turn it on and run basic applications. Unfortunately, she didn't use it much, and now my dad is using it on the road for work.

Or maybe your Dad is causing trouble? (because "much" is a lot more than "doesn't use it"..)
posted by Chuckles at 6:34 PM on June 21, 2010


My dad used the old G4 quite a bit for email, browsing the internet, and looking at photos taken on family trips, but then the monitor portion of the computer died, and they had an old PC as a replacement system (which either went to my sister or brother). I'm not sure how much the G5 is being used, but my dad was really happy to have another Mac (he felt more comfortable with them).

I think I'll be spending time with Mom this weekend and seeing if she uses / can use the G5, and how she feels with an iPad.

I wouldn't say that my dad was causing trouble with the laptop for my mom, other than using it away from home, so she couldn't use it. My concern for my mom learning how to use computers from my dad: if my dad doesn't know how things really work, I'm worried Mom might learn strange habits that aren't necessary or are counterproductive, and take longer to unlearn. Maybe I'm overthinking the whole process, but there you have it.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:59 PM on June 21, 2010


It sounds like you want her to use the computer the "right way". But there isn't really a right way to use a computer. With some tools, like cars, the right way stops you from driving head-on into someone. On a computer the right way just stops you from the social embarrassment of emailing in all caps or taking longer to type something over and over because you didn't know about copy/pasting. If she has the time to do things her way, and the end result is she gets to get the things done she wants done, then ignore the urge to say "but you are doing it wrong". Fear of that disapproval, and the impatience that usually accompanies it, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks I find for people before they come to my classes.

If I were you, I would set the iPad up with her email address (pretty much the only techie thing needing done) and then leave her alone to learn it herself. Having her prove herself first on the G5 means nothing because they are two very different machines.

Tl;dr, the problem may be social, not technological and you may be the unwitting cause.
posted by saucysault at 5:10 AM on June 22, 2010


Kinda related story: in one of my classes I had a woman that had been a secretary for about forty years. When a computer was plopped on her desk twenty-five years ago no-one told her how to use it. She used the mouse backwards, as in, the buttons were under her palm and her fingers were on the solid part of the mouse. It looked crazy but she had been able to work with it and there was no point in showing her the right way. She had been told and shown the right way by many people over the years but she stuck with what was comfortable and what worked for her.
posted by saucysault at 5:25 AM on June 22, 2010


Don't have an iPad, but nth-ing trying that.

I bought my 85-year-old Mom an iBook 2 years ago so she could write her memoirs on it, which she actually managed to do, but that was simply because she's an OK typist and learned to use TextEdit and some basic keyboard shortcuts well enough to get the text to me for formating, Lulu printing, etc. So it's just a typewriter to her.

And to this day she is still in no way comfortable with computers. She sends the rare email, but web-browse? Forget it. I have spent countless hours screen-sharing with her, and she intellectually gets much of what I've been trying to explain about files, folders, focus, etc., but she still finds it easier to call me than to simply email something like an address or a quick question.

Her problem seems to be physical, and maybe something like this is your mom's problem, too: She just can't really master the track pad or the mouse we got her.

Despite being able to manage inserting and selecting text, she's constantly failing in the minute level of accuracy required to click, drag, or otherwise navigate effectively around layered menus, tiny click boxes, disclosure triangles and other basic GUI devices. She's always missing them or slipping just enough away so the wrong things happen. As I listen to her struggles, it's clear that she also often suddenly find she's in the Finder or some background app because she happened to click outside of the window she's in—and of course she doesn't notice anything except something's broken with the app she thinks she in. I have no idea how to help her improve in this area, at least over the phone. Her motor control in general is fine, no tremors or clumsiness.

As a result, when she's not just word processing, she feels physically at war with the thing and never uses it, and therefore never actually develops any skills and certainly never remembers any steps.

I'm reasonably certain that the iPad's touch screen, no multitasking, plus an external keyboard, would be much more approachable for her as a general-purpose browsing/emailing/news-reading device than any kind of standard computer.
posted by dpcoffin at 10:38 AM on June 22, 2010


dpcoffin, that sounds a bit like how my Grandmother was. She liked the card game apps that were linked on her desktop, but when she was typing, she'd often "turn the whole screen blue" and everything would disappear. In other words, she hit the hotkey combination for "select all" and her next key stroke replaced everything.

I got the iPad for my mom, and I'll update this thread with her feelings, thoughts and progress with it.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:42 AM on July 16, 2010


After one afternoon of getting used to the iPad as a mini-desktop navigated by touch (using the iPad in the keyboard dock), she was kind of getting the hang of things. After some nudging, she used it again, checking and replying to some email, and she watched some YouTube videos with my sister. She's isn't using it much, but she's still happy with it.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:35 AM on July 28, 2010


After one afternoon of getting used to the iPad as a mini-desktop navigated by touch (using the iPad in the keyboard dock)...

You're still pretending that the iPad is a computer, so it's not surprising your mom isn't using it a lot. She doesn't like computers.

Try sitting her down on the couch to watch some YouTube videos, or sit her down at the kitchen table and open up the newspaper or weather.com. That's how the primary usage pattern for the iPad, and may be more interesting to your mom.
posted by alms at 8:52 AM on July 29, 2010


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