Can the iPad help me to be a better parent? We've been testing the new device with our children and grandchildren over the last few days, and here's what we've found.
1. It's not a computer. Don't think of it as one, stop comparing it to your favorite computer, and you'll be better off. Think of the iPad instead as a new kind of information and communication device, and see what it can do for your life.
2. While you're at the store getting your new iPad, also pick up a bottle of Windex. You'll need it to keep the iPad's glass screen clean of fingerprints. Everything on the iPad is done with your fingers touching the glass. And many of us and our offspring have dirty fingers.
3. We have found that the iPad helps us in every room of the house. And in the car. Here's how:
Kitchen: The iPad's case enables the cook to stand it up on the counter like a cookbook holder. Find the recipe you need at Cook's Illustrated or Epicurious, make the text big enough to read from across the room, and cook away. While you're reading instructions and mixing the ingredients, tune into to the latest podcast from National Public Radio. With no keyboard to spill the olive oil into, and no mouse to pick up flour dust, the iPad seems pretty safe dans la cuisine.
Living room: It's easy to curl up on the couch with the iPad and a three-year-old and read Winnie the Pooh together. Very much like reading a book, about the same size and weight, with the same pictures and beautiful text. With the added benefit of clicking on a word to learn its meaning or hear it spoken. When the book is done, use one of the many drawing apps to sketch a picture of Pooh corner. Then let the young one trace some of his or her favorite letters from the book with the Letter Tracer app.
Bedroom: You can prop it up on your tummy in bed, or hold it in your hand in a chair, as you read your own book, or browse the Times, or check the news before you sleep. It's backlit, so you don't need a lamp. If you doze off, it goes to sleep as well, and remembers where you left off when you both wake up. You can set an alarm to wake you in time for breakfast. And turn the iPad's screen into a clock's face so you can track the hours of your insomnia.
Office: The iPad comes with a built-in email application, through which you can check all your accounts, compose messages, and attach pictures and documents. And to create those documents, the iPad provides a superb word-processor (Pages), a nifty spreadsheet (Numbers), and a slick slide show maker (Keynote). These all work pretty much the same as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint do on your computer. Need some factual information or images for your report? Use the iPad's built-in web browser to search, find, and save what you need. Want to save a picture from the web? Just tap it, and put it into your photo collection.
Den: In your easy chair, fire up the AP News app and flick through the stories to get the latest in full-screen living color video. Use the National Geographic app to zoom in on the places where the news is being made, seeing both physical and political maps. This same app can help your child with homework. Want to let the whole family share? Connect your iPad to a pocket projector, such as the Optoma Pico, and display the video and images on the wall.
Bathroom: Personally, I'd never stoop so low as to take an iPad into the bathroom, but some people tell me that working out sudoku puzzles helps them work through other important issues at that location. You have several sudoku apps to choose from. Even in this most private of places, you're not out of touch: you can send and receive instant messages with the AIM app.
Car: We spend more time than we'd like in the car, and the iPad has followed us there as well. We write (in the passenger seat only), read books, consult maps, and the grandchildren draw pictures and interact with books. The rubbery surface and adjustable angles of the case make it easy to find a comfortable and secure position for the pad, even while cornering on two wheels.
It's not a computer, it's not a book, it's not a smartphone, it's not a PDA. It's a new kind of information and communication device that will find its way into your life and work.