Mom’s iPad. Day one.

Many of you may recall why my Mom needs an iPad, so I thought I’d do a follow up now that she’s had it for a day or so on how she’s getting on, how I set her up, and what she loves and hates in the hope that your relative may benefit from my experience somehow.

Once again, for clarification, my Mom is very very smart as I’ve explained here and has used a computer in the past for recipes, and occasional games of solitaire. She has, in the past, also been known to send an email but it’s never been an easy task so it doesn’t get done often. We’ve had many experiments of trying to get her on netbooks and such but they’ve always proved to be a struggle mainly because of her infrequent use.

So following is step by step of her experiences with the iPad.

Opening the box

I was away when the box arrived (actually I was in the queue for another iPad for my nephew as it happened), but she had been excited about it arriving all morning and kept checking the window. At this point she really had no idea what she’d do with it but felt it could be the thing for her to start her internet world properly.

When it arrived, she ripped open the box, pulled it out in all it’s beautiful presentation. Looked for the manual… and found a small piece of card with a few pointers on where the on off switch were and such. So on to switching on the device and of course at this point she was stuck as it needed connection to another computer and she initially thought it just had to be my computer.

As an aside, I’ve mentioned my distress with the initial setup in a previous post but I’d like to reiterate how annoying this is for a computer newcomer. In addition, the fact that there’s not really even a cheap paper user guide included… and even the electronic guide which is free on the iBooks store requires the download of iBooks then the download of the guide… something novices won’t necessarily be able to do without instruction.

Assuming that a) I needed to set it up and b) It would need charging as most battery things do… she waited for me as she knew I’d be back in an hour or so.

First use

On arriving home, I did the initial device registration, added her iTunes account info to my dad’s laptop, and set up her gmail on the iPad. Now normally when I’d do this sort of family tech support (of the kind I’m sure you’re all aware) I’d be left to my own devices and left alone… however this time Mum was so excited that she was watching every step of the way and asking questions. It would have been nice for Apple to have answered those questions (which they would have done if this was in a store) but sadly there was no helpful popup help as we went along so it was up to me. Then I handed it to her and let her have a play explaining that I’d run through some things after she’d had a bit of a go.

For the first 5 minutes she was swiping, launching apps, poking at things (I assured her she couldn’t do anything bad on it just yet) and seeing what she could do… then she promptly asked me to show her email and the game was afoot!

First instruction

I began by explaining what the external buttons and ports were (with the exception of rotation lock, I held off on that until we were learning our first app). The fact that the iPad has so few external buttons and ports is a HUGE bonus for training as once they get the idea of the on/off switch and the home button they’re fine on the basics of most apps… it’s all bonus from there.

Another aside: out of all the external buttons, the “Home” was the hardest for her to understand. Volume is straight forward and the audio and dock ports were straight forward. She even picked up the idea of rotation lock immediately. However with the home button she kept looking for a close window button on apps, and couldn’t grasp it for some time. I attribute this to the notion that geeks are so use to the concept of an OS that going back to the “finder” or whatever you’d like to call the equivalent is fairly straight forward for us. For most people “the internet” is explorer or google and the whole OS and App architecture is a little alien.

Proceeding from that we drifted into an overview of the built in apps. There was some confusion on iTunes vs App Store. In addition I’d loaded a few apps which I realised was a mistake during training… but the solitaire and epicurious I loaded have been big faves since so I’m not complaining. Weirdly enough, where normally you’d get some glazing going on in this overview (hence the need for repetition and follow up to ensure understanding) she was focused the whole way and asking app specific questions to the point that I had to reign her in so we could head back to our destination… email.


My Mom understands the basic idea of email. That it works like a digital letter. She suffers from the same issue that I’ve encountered many times in assuming that the address is fixed to a specific location rather than something that could live in many and multiple places… so she was worried at one point when we sent an email to my sisters computer address instead of her iPhone address and was worried she wouldn’t see it for hours (she has both on both as it happens) but that’s something that will come in time.

Consequently, email was basically explaining how the software worked rather than the concept as such.

There were two points that presented issues with email on the iPad: icons and rotation.

Icons: I know what a swirly back arrow in email means as contextually that makes sense to be “reply”. She doesn’t have that geeky concept to fall back on. The file folder icon makes some sense… however there’s no way to make new folders on the iPad which presents some problems for her. Currently I’ve promised to set up any that are needed… which is something I would have liked to be able to avoid. Trash actually makes sense so that’s a start… but the little checkbox for “New mail” looks like a done to me and my Mom agrees.

Rotation: For someone who is new to computing, completely changing the functionality of something based on it’s rotation is a little daunting and finding her way back to new messages presented quite an issue the first time it happened. I’m not sure how this could have been handled better but it is quite jarring from a novice point of view.


After email we moved into web browsing (as this and email were the two tasks she really wanted to do on the iPad). Safari was the big winner for my Mom. Very little issues… with the main one being the concept of different pages. She expect all things to open in the same page so when a bad website keeps opening new windows it causes issues which shouldn’t be there. We’ve barely encountered any flash so that’s not been an issue.

I’ve previously set up a few links for her on other (failed) computer attempts with her but quickly found her googling lots of stuff and typing in addresses she saw on the TV or found in her favourite magazines (ironically enough).


I was genuinely surprised how quickly she took to the keyboard. She loves it and considers it a way better keyboard to any of the netbooks that she’s tried in the past. She can type quickly and accurately (she was a typist in her day for a while before she became a teacher) and has been emailing like a demon since she got the iPad.

I think the biggest issue is the contextual rearrangement and dynamic naming of the “return” key depending of the circumstances. Having it change from a “return” to a “go” to a “done” to a “search” is actually just frustrating rather than helpful. And while I personally find the addition of a “.com” key on address aware text fields, Mom just finds this frustrating. I would think a toggle in preferences to turn this off would be helpful for her.

Other apps

She very quickly found the free version of solitaire that I put on there, and it’s become a fast favourite… as has epicurious for looking up recipes.Weirdly enough, I’ve not used epicurious too much myself (being not in my own house currently) and I quickly found that her knowledge of the app outstripped my own and she was off jotting down recipes for herself (she would print them… but we know how that turns out on the iPad).

I was supposed to run her second training session today on the next app… but instead she is off trying things and poking around occasionally asking a question followed by a very quick “oh nevermind I’ve worked it out.”


While I’ll follow up once more in a week or so on how she’s going, but what amazes me is that she’s getting the sense of wonder and excitement that I’ve had with technology for years but most people just don’t understand.

With the iPad, Mom is playing, exploring, occasionally gaming, communicating, but basically having FUN using the technology rather than struggling against it. This is what excites me most about the iPad as that excitement is something that I simply don’t see in people of Mom’s generation and I believe the iPad is going to bring it to them.

Mom has already offered my services several times over to train her friends who had no interest in the iPad but are now infected by her enthusiasm. I can’t say I’m thrilled with the proposal but I’m absolutely ecstatic about the outcome. :)

Comments 1

  1. James wrote:

    So, the big question is – what would your mum’s experience have been like without you to ‘hold her hand’…?

    Posted 31 May 2010 at 6:04 am

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    […] as a bonus iPad feature, one of my friends describes how his mum has been getting on with her iPad. It’s an interesting view at how a non-techie views the […]

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