Sunday, July 25, 2010

Grandma's iPad - A user guide and review

I gave my 80 yo half-blind wheelchair bound arthritic mother her iPad.

She loves it. She's fascinated by it, her main complaint is that she loses track of time playing with it. She's using the (iPhone, double sized -- which is a feature, see below) to follow me and she composed her first email since her macular degeneration progressed.

She manages to drop it into conversations. The amazement and envy of a young supermarket employee is priceless.

As with her 2007 Mac Mini, which is increasingly hard for her to operate, I've written up a user guide for Grandma's Accessible iPad.

Very quickly (for time is short!) here are some related observations in bullet form:
  • Games are a a good way to learn basic motions. She likes Solitaire, I paid a few dollars for an ad-free product.
  • Ad-supported products are NOT elder-friendly. They're too unpredictable and confusing.
  • Her devices are enrolled in MobileMe, one of our family accounts. I have a "GrandMa" user account on my laptop that syncs with that MobileMe account. That lets me remotely manager her contacts and calendar from my laptop. I'd use "Back to my Mac" from that laptop but I didn't have time to make it work with her ISP (currently blocks needed ports).
  • Old-fashioned desktop-oriented web apps are the most accessible apps because they zoom very nicely. Mobile web apps are the least accessible low vision apps because they don't scale at all (pinch expand doesn't work) and they don't even have configurable fonts.
  • Web apps that require authentication are a REAL problem. She absolutely cannot manage passwords. (Almost nobody can, really.)
  • iPhone apps with retina-displays support set to double size are PERFECT for her. Very large UI, very simple UI.
  • The more "features" in the OS the more troublesome. There's nothing in iOS 4 that is good for her -- it's just more complex (multitasking, "folders", etc). More features means more "traps" -- unexpected behaviors. (Like the "wiggles" if you rest a digit on an icon, but at least I could explain that.)
  • It's really annoying that Apple made "zoom" (a very weak feature) incompatible with VoiceOver. They should at least use a rotor gesture for the VoiceOver screen blank feature so the triple finger tap could zoom.
  • Apple's is very hard to use with low vision. She has to pull out a magnifying glass (which is a feature of the iPad, they don't work well with desktop screens). Apple's font scaling only shows up in the message, nowhere else. It's really not a very user-friendly app.
See also these related posts (first 4 are iPad, 5th is OS X desktop):


Julie K said...

Thanks that is helpful. You should pass it on to Apple. It would make a good Take Control Book especially if they incorporated both the Mac computer and iPad.

Dennis Waldman said...

You have some great ideas in this. I have a special needs son and I am always trying to find a way to make the technology easier for him. I loved the idea of getting the "no-ads" on the games. I never really thought of that before. It focuses his attention on the device and not the frustration of figuring out why a window just popped up.

I like the simple manual. I realize that it is easier for me to do something like that for my son, rather than explaining it over and over and over...

Thanks for the ideas!

JGF said...

Thanks Dennis.

You might find other topics of interest at

For example:

Matt said...

Hi Gordon! Partly inspired by you, I bought my 94yo grandmother her iPad a couple weeks ago. Finally getting around to unboxing it. I am following a lot of your directions, as my grandmother's eyesight is quite poor (but her brain is in great health and she is still mobile). I believe she sees better than she says she does, but she's still going to have trouble typing. Any new suggestions since your last email, particularly for composing email etc? I'm nervous she won't be able to zoom/pan while composing anything.


AHaggett said...

Wonderful observations Sheba. I have loaned demo tablets (through work) to my parents, both iPad and Android based. I could *never* have predicted the sorts of things I learned. Perhaps the most shocking thing to me was the difficult with email, especially when it linked media content (a context switch). This should not be so hard for them!

JGF said...

Email is a surprise, and not in a good way. For my mother it's the most important app, but is too dynamic.

The best email for her would be completely static. Rather like the email I used with "Norton Commander" about 23 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, this is a really great piece and helpful as I am introducing my partially-sighted Grandma to her iPad and it's great to read about your experiences.

My main concern with my Grandma is that she has arthritis and so finds it difficult to double-tap. It's annoying that Apple haven't come up with an alternative to this as you'd think it was pretty common...

At the start of your piece you link to a User Guide, but when I click the link I get redirected to - if you could fix the link so I can check out the guide, I would be very grateful!

JGF said...

Just catching up with email. I hadn't remembered that this article was on Apple's former web server. I've made a note to dig up the original and repost. I'll update here when I get to it.