What is an iPad good for? / by James Huggins

The Ladybird Classic Me Books app with its paper parents

It's with a certain trepidation that I write this post. First let me just say that I'm an Apple fan. A religious devotion to quality, design and making stuff that is just plain good is something I have a huge respect for. I'm certainly not alone in this either. Now that Apple is officially the richest company in the world it's clear a large section of the population share my position. So that's why I feel a possible lynching in the air when I lift my trembling hand and ask the question...

What is the iPad really good for?

As a geek and someone who is keen to try new things I bought an iPad when it was first released. We now have an iPad 2 as well. Now like most people I claim that these are for work purposes and they are. But that hasn't stopped me evaluating them thoroughly for my own personal use. When the iPad was announced I was intrigued as to exactly how and where it would fit into my life. I carry an iPhone and a MacBook already... so what would be the reason for adding a third device to the contents of my groaning rucksack. I ran with it for a few weeks but try as I might I just couldn't find a genuine reason to use the iPad over my phone or laptop. Quick emails / Twitter / Facebook etc are dealt with brilliantly by my phone. For more in-depth work I favour the tactile keyboard of my laptop, which also has the handy ability of standing up by itself. I found the iPad tricky to hold for any length of time or, as all the billboards suggested, rest on my knees. The early marketing boldly claimed it was the best web experience ever. Uh... really? The screen is smaller than my laptop and there is no support for Flash, a technology written off by Steve Jobs but still used by a massive number of multimedia websites.

So despite several sustained attempts to install the iPad in my life I found myself using it less and less, not more and more as I would have expected. Sorry Steve, I really did try.

Then one day, the kids got hold of it.

I'd seen glimpses of magic when they'd hijacked my iPhone on occasion but when I saw them with the iPad I thought, OK... this is going to get interesting. They mastered it almost immediately, and were able to make real use of the touch screen and intuitive controls. Getting to grips with a keyboard and mouse can often be a frustrating experience for young children but this was effortless. This was the moment I knew we had the potential to use this technology to create experiences that weren't just cool, but really valuable and utterly accessible to young children. 

So what is the iPad really good for?

I'm aware everyone will have different answers to this question. For me, the iPad is a digital toy, and it's real strength lies in it's inherent playfulness. With the right app and in the hands of a child, it is an object of magic, wonder and discovery, the likes of which has not existed before. So does the iPad fit into my life? Absolutely it does, it's just not my hands holding it... they're much smaller, and covered in jam.