Tablet Wisdom From the Mouth of Babes

My twin boys are now 16 month old and are both avid users of the various tablets we have in the house.  Since I’ve been experimenting with tablet development, we have an iPad, a 10″ Motorolla Xoom (Andorid 4.1), a 7″ Nexus Table (Android 4.2) and, because my wife couldn’t resist a bargain, a 10″, discontinued HP TouchPad (WebOS) so there’s plenty for them to choose from.  Here are some random things I’ve observed about how they’ve learned to use the tablets, what they do with them and how it seems to have impacted their development:

  • For awhile, one of the boys liked to watch a little Baby TV before bed.  Now he would rather sit and browse through YouTube.  The bottom line is he would much rather watch what he wants when he wants it.
  • YouTube occasionally gets stuck on the iPad.  Gavin has learned how to fix this by refreshing the browser.  Grant comes to me or his mom and says, “iPad hang” and hands it to us so we can fix it.  Both my boys also know words like “reboot”.  It’s kind of sad to realize these things are still pretty unstable despite their apparent level of sophistication.
  • Grant wanted to sit in my lap while I was working so I fired up YouTube on one of my monitors to play his favorite song.  When it was over, he reached up to the screen and tried to swipe to browse the list of related videos.  Of course, that did not work, which caused quite a bit of frustration.  Showed him how to use the mouse, but he just didn’t get it.  Even babies know direct manipulation is the best!
  • The boys don’t care which tablet they get as long as it has the software they want.  If Gavin wants angry birds, he’s equally happy with the Nexus, the iPad or the TouchPad.  Unfortunately, the TouchPad doesn’t have much except for Angry Birds so it’s getting used less and less.  It also means that for the most part the Nexus and iPad are equally popular around our house.
  • Gavin saw me watching a video on the Nexus with sound coming from some Bluetooth speakers a couple feet away and spent a good five minutes trying to understand how the sound was coming from way over there.  From his perspective, it seemed like magic.

Watching them I am reminded how far this technology has come despite its flaws.  My first full-time job writing software was for a client that sold car phones, pagers and two-way radios.  When the first portable phones came out, maximum talk time was less than 60 minutes and you hauled around a ten pound bag with the battery.  Even rich athletes had to be careful about using their cell phones or they would run up airtime bills that ran into the tens of thousands.  Now my kids are watching videos posted by people in China on tiny devices with 10 hours of battery life on a lighting-fast Internet connection with no limits on usage that costs me less than $50/mo.  Back in the 80’s, I had to teach my dad how to deal with directories and the DOS prompt.  Now my kids are daily consumers of technology that can’t use a mouse, have never touched a keyboard and don’t even care about the OS.  I guess Gavin is right.  It is magic!

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