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The iPad 2 Is the New PC

Why tablet computers may be the must-have devices for older Americans


  • Older Americans like tablets because they are generally intuitive
  • Video calling could be the feature that makes tablet adoption popular among older populations
  • Older users tend to use tablets for entertainment rather than lifestyle management purposes


At a retirement home in Florida, Andy Carle pulls out an Apple iPad 2 to see if the residents are interested. Half an hour later he comes back to find several actively engaged in scrolling through pictures and playing games. Carle is an assistant professor at George Mason University, where he is director of the program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration. He is also given credit for coining the term "Nana-Tech" — technology suitable for a grandmother.

Business traveler using tablet computer in airport

Apple's iPad has become a very popular computing choice among older Americans. — Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

He admits that so far seniors are only starting to dabble in using tablet computers such as the iPad. But he sees the technology starting to take hold. He predicts that in some ways, seniors will adopt the tablets even more eagerly than boomers. And Carle believes the "Killer App" will be Skype. He says that seniors exposed to Skype love it. It allows them to stay in touch with family and friends face to face. They don't need to know how to type. Many have already become familiar with it on desktop computers, but now they can carry the iPad with them wherever they go and never miss a call.

While Skype has been around for years, until now if you wanted to do video calls you were tethered to a desktop or laptop computer — not big with the 70 and older set. And you couldn't use it on the first version of the iPad because it had no camera. But iPad 2 has both front- and rear-facing cameras. And while Apple would not support Skype video calling on its iPhone 4, it has changed its tune with the new iPad. If Carle is right, and Skype is really the application that drives acceptance of the iPad 2 among seniors, that could pose a real problem for the new wave of Android tablets from Apple's competitors, which do not support Skype video calling, but use Google's proprietary Google Talk.

Not Out of Sight or Out of Mind

If you are an adult caregiver, the tablet can be worth it for peace of mind. Wondering if mom is getting enough rest, eating well enough, getting some exercise? See for yourself. Carle says that one-fifth of adult caregivers live more than an hour's trip away from their parents. And that can be a cross-country plane flight, not just a drive. Given the visual connection, he thinks the $500 entry price tag is a no-brainer, especially since most retirement and assisted living communities now have Wi-Fi, so they really don't need an expensive data plan.

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