Why grandma needs a tablet

By Laura Haight
Originally published as the Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal

What’s on your list for your grandmother this year? A new Christmas sweater, framed photos of the grandkids, a new pair of readers?

Forget that. Grandma needs a tablet.

I’ve thought this for some time, but this year I purchased one for my mom’s 85th birthday. She lives in Las Vegas and was coming to visit so I knew I would have a couple of weeks to nudge her toward it and train her on it.

Here are a few reasons why a high tech tablet is the perfect gift for your low-tech seniors.

1. They aren’t computers. Computers are confusing. Most seniors won’t understand the ins and outs of basic computing. The Windows error messages are baffling and just try walking your mom through some troubleshooting on the phone! But tablets are easy so long as you put it into “set it and forget it” mode. I had two weeks with the Kindle HDX 8.9” tablet I bought my mother. I added in a keyboard case so she wouldn’t even briefly face the challenge of typing on the virtual keyboard.

I set up the applications she would use - a bridge game, some bookmarks (including one to yours truly’s Digital Maven page on the UBJ website!), a borrowed mystery from the Kindle Lending Library, a reading application (Flipboard), Skype and her email. I connected the Bluetooth keyboard for her and established all her settings and defaults.

Now it is truly press and play. The gratification is instant and the self contained applications she would be most likely to use are right in front of her.

2. Designed for reading. At a certain age, it is most likely that your parents or grandparents grew up reading newspapers and magazines. They still want to do that, but their vision may be failing, the newspaper is cumbersome, magazines are expensive, books are heavy, hard to manage and costly. Sure, they could read all these things on their computers, but click on a photo and it’s really a video that demands a new driver or application to run. Or “your version of java-flash-silverlight is out of date.”

You can argue about whether tablets are work tools, but there’s no better way to read. The touch interface is intuitive, like turning the pages of a book or magazine. The hyperlinked articles are easy to get to and the rich content is more accessible on a tablet where the applications are integrated than on a computer.

Amazon prime members can borrow books for free from the Kindle Owners Lending Library (you only need a Kindle App) and most public libraries now offer digital books as well. This appeals to the frugal side.

Most newspapers and magazines require digital subscriptions but check out apps like Next Issue as a fairly cost-effective way to get a variety of magazines on your tablet.

3. Keeping in touch. You may have struggled with this same issue: You email photos or video links to your parent(s) only to hear  “I can’t open these.” I would try to understand why just double clicking didn’t work, but without being right there to show here, we just couldn’t get over what were probably small technical issues. Still once she perceived something to be difficult, she stopped trying. Tablets with integrated applications in the operating system take the muss and fuss of sharing photos and videos out of the mix. Link-click-open-watch-delete. Instant gratification. Ahhhhh.

Video calling on Skype, OoVoo or Facetime, depending on the device is easier than dialing the phone and the instant gratification of seeing each other will buy you extra points for a long time.

I don’t know about you but being a few thousand miles away from my mom is hard, so I like to see her when we talk.

Every tablet is going to pretty much have the same basic operational functionality. Personal preference or affiliation might be a differentiator, but I choose the Kindle HDX primarily because of the “mayday” button - live customer service at the press of a button.

Two minutes ago, I walked into the kitchen to see how she was doing and found her doing the crossword on the tablet - an application I installed for her but hadn’t even shown her how to use yet.

I do believe we have a winner!