Tablet devices are growing in popularity thanks to their smaller, more lightweight designs when compared to their desktop, laptop, and netbook computer counterparts. Through various apps — an abbreviated form of the word “applications,” or programs — tablets provide a touch-screen interface for activities such as reading books and magazines, browsing the Web, checking and sending email, and playing games such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
According to research company Gartner, shipments of desktop, laptop, and netbook computers fell almost 20% within Western Europe in the past year, thanks to an increased demand for tablets. On a global scale, tablet sales are expected to reach 50 million this year, according to ABI Research, and shipments of tablets are expected to reach 150 million by 2015. There were more than 75 tablets showcased at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“Accompanying all the buzz over this new technology is the promise it holds for connecting the disconnected, including older adults who have struggled with setting up a personal computer, installing software and dealing with annoying error notifications,” writes Angel Carl, a blogger for home healthcare provider Right at Home. There are even some tablets designed specifically for a senior user, with features such as a more intuitive interface, brighter screens, and the ability to increase text size or to zoom into a certain area of the screen.
When a 99-year-old woman in Oregon who had never owned a computer or a Kindle started using a computer tablet to read books and write limericks, ‘It changed her life,’ according to her daughter. ‘You can enlarge the print, and it has a much brighter screen so you can read on it more easily than with a regular computer screen,’ the daughter explained. At one senior living residence in Colorado, older adults have learned to use computer tablets as substitutes for crossword puzzles, books, newspapers, recipe cards, hand-written notes and shoebox photographs.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, only 42% of Americans age 65 and older go online, yet those who do are just as enthusiastic as younger users when it comes to email and looking up information using search engines. Part of the hesitation might be in learning how to use computers in order to access the Internet.
Professor Tsang Kuo-jen of National Chengchi University in Taiwan has studied communication and aging for a decade. He believes that seniors’ inexperience and frustration with computers is often mistaken for disinterest. Professor Kuo-jen also believes that tablets’ ease of use could change that.
Similarly, Laurie Orlov also believes that as computers and hand-held devices such as tablets become easier for less experienced consumers to use, seniors will benefit. Orlov, a former Forrester Research analyst who started her own company, Aging in Place Technology Watch, lists numerous ways that seniors are excluded by not being online, such as paying more for airline tickets, missing out on coupons and other discounts, and becoming more isolated from family and other loved ones who communicate digitally.
The Winnipeg Free Press, based in Manitoba, Canada, recently published an opinion piece on eReaders, devices that are similar in form to tablets. The article pits senior against senior to give their viewpoints — a senior citizen and a senior college student, that is. Surprisingly, it was the student who “wasn’t impressed” with the device and prefers holding a physical book rather than “staring down a screen.”
Alma Barkman, a multi-published author and the senior citizen representative of the piece, calls it “a convenient, inexpensive opportunity to download and carry dozens of books wherever you go.” Barkman also points out the advantages the devices give to people with vision problems, since the screen can be adjusted to provide enlargement while a book cannot magnify itself. Many libraries even offer electronic books (known as “e-books”) for checkout.
Source: “PC shipments fall as customers opt for tablets,” The Guardian, 08/17/11
Source: “Senior vs. Senior: eReaders,” Winnipeg Free Press, 07/31/11
Source: “Tablets Open the Digital World to Older Adults,” Right at Home, 05/17/11
Source: “Scholar hopes to break stereotypes of elderly people,” Focus Taiwan, 08/15/11
Source: “Seniors Are Saying No to High Tech,” U.S. News, 08/15/11
Image by Illusive Photography (Alan Antiporda), used under its Creative Commons license.