iPad vs. a 5-Year-Old [Video]

A few months ago, I dropped my iPhone and cracked the screen. After replacing it, I put a screen guard on the old one and gave it to my son, Cash, who's five. Within days, he had mastered almost everything but the volume button. Occasionally, long after he was supposed to be asleep, I'd hear 30-second blasts of Rob Thomas, Justin Bieber, or Lady Gaga coming from his bedroom--he'd figured out how to go to the iTunes store and was playing samples of top hits. If he knew my iTunes password, he'd have broken my bank account by now--and developed a horrific taste in pop.

Then after reading an early version of Anya Kamenetz's story, "A Is for App," in the April issue of Fast Company, I downloaded a few educational apps and played them with Cash on his phone during the bus ride to school. I think it's helped him with spelling and coordination.

So as the iPad launch approached, I started telling Cash about it and showing him pictures, but I never told him anything about how it would work. "It's like a giant iPhone!" he said.

"What do you want to do on it?" I asked him.

"Tether it to an iPhone and run a multimedia presentation at the office!" he said.

Kidding.

"Play games!" he said, having just discovered Lightsaber Unleashed on his iPhone.

This week I read all sorts of thought provoking reviews by the likes of David Pogue and Walt Mossberg and Andy Ihnatko. But a true test of the iPad's genius, I thought (and convinced my colleagues and Cash's mom to let me try) would be to let him test one out. Could the tablet be so user friendly that a five-year-old could work it with practically no instruction? Let's see.

So, yeah. He pretty much figured it out in five minutes flat. He instinctively pushed the home button when he got stuck. He knew how to make pictures larger, how to draw on the Etch-a-Sketch app (he preferred it to the actual Etch-a-Sketch we had in the office). And, of course, because he's a boy, he learned how to shoot the shooting games and steer the racing games. I'm not being sexist. It's just how it is.

The biggest drawback is that the device didn't know when the picture was upside down if it was lying flat (how could it?). And it needs a case to keep from slipping around and pivoting on its curved back when sitting on a slick surface.

Oh, and it should come with a crowbar to pry a five-year-old away from it.

[Photo: Michael Krakovskiy]

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20 Comments

  • Michael Funkadellic

    kids unlike most adults are always looking to explore as that is a primary driver for survival of the species.I guess we still need to teach our boys how to kill & our girls how to make babbies as that is what we are, however... maybe age appropriate games should be designed that promote more than just that simple paradigm. that said, lets face it, apple on a bad day is about average for most other people. Except for 1 simple thing no pre pay for iphones is a total con job

  • Benjamin Lupton

    Perhaps it's just me, but to solve the orientation problem couldn't they just use some pseudo like:
    if orientation is flat then use the orientation suggested by finger orientation
    For example if you are using the ipad, no matter what your finger nails would never be facing towards you when you use it, only perhaps 180 degree angle front of you. This should be able to be determined by finger movement, or imprint size on the reader, or depending on how detailed the reader is, finger print orientation.

    Do agree case would be best for the slippage problem.

  • Cass Chin

    While I agree that the iPad/iPhone is way easier to use than the competition, you kinda crapped on your point by somewhat guiding your kid on what to do. Like when you told him to pick it up for the racing game. I'm nitpicking, I know.

  • Cass Chin

    While I agree that the iPad/iPhone is way easier to use than the competition, you kinda crapped on your point by somewhat guiding your kid on what to do. Like when you told him to pick it up for the racing game. I'm nitpicking, I know.

  • Cass Chin

    While I agree that the iPad/iPhone is way easier to use than the competition, you kinda crapped on your point by somewhat guiding your kid on what to do. Like when you told him to pick it up for the racing game. I'm nitpicking, I know.

  • Senthil Pandurangan

    Nice article! I also had a similar experience when my daughter was 4 years. Yes! Thats I got inspired to create Math Magic and Word Magic which are in top 100 education apps in iTunes and resulted in http://www.anusen.com iPad/iPhones are intuitive and very easy for the kids to play with and they don't need any introduction to features and they will figure it out.

  • Michael Shoemaker

    Not to be the naysayer here, but my 4 and 5 year-old nephews picked up computer games super quickly with a mouse as the interface. They have been playing games on PC's with old-school hardware without instruction for a long time.

  • Samuel Campbell II

    Great story! I think that Apple has completely missed the effect that the iPhone has on children. Your son is actually a little advanced and as such, it didn't translate as well as watching a 3yr old using it for one of those learning games. When my 3yr old daughter was 2 she (and I'm sure many others including Cash) could unlock the iPhone without help. She figured out how to slide over two sections/pages, to her section/page with just her Apps. She also could care less about adult games but allow her to arrange letters into a word, paint or use any of the many other children based apps and the potential becomes abundantly obvious.
    I envision pre-schools and elementary schools with these as standard tools for learning. The classroom automatically syncs all of the iPads in the room and a teacher can blast a question to all of the students at once and monitor them from another iPad. If a child is taking too long to answer, the teacher receives a notice and can send that child hints or go over to them for direct help. The possibilities are endless because using it is so intuitive for children!

  • NoahRobischon

    @Filipe He picked that game from the icons that were on the desktop, and there were plenty to choose from. The apps were pre-loaded by someone else.

  • Filipe Frota

    After all this publicity, I bet that Apple will give free IPads to the whole Fast Company crew.