Putting the iPad Through the Mom Test

At certain points during the run-up to the launch of the Apple iPad, it seemed like techies were more excited to buy the tablet for their mothers than for themselves. Something about the intuitive, super-simple interface just says "Mom" to a lot of people.

I'm among them (although I'm also pretty eager to get one for myself). I could hardly contain my excitement when the iPad was finally released on Saturday, heading over to the nearest Apple store as soon as the lines died down to get a hands-on look at the new device. And I dragged my reluctant mother along, trying to convince her that the iPad was something she'd want to see.

My mom is someone who cares little about electronic gadgets. For her, computers are strictly a means to an end. She uses a laptop primarily for basic word processing and Web-browsing tasks. Her computer is a slow first-generation MacBook with a broken optical drive and a cracked case—but it works for her (most of the time) and that's all she really cares about. She politely listens when I frequently blabber on about exciting new technologies—but for the most part, she couldn't care less.

On Saturday she agreed to humor me, yet she looked incredulous. All that changed once we got to the store and started playing with the much-hyped device. She was actually excited. She wanted one. Immediately. She marveled at the iPad's bright, easy-to-read display, its inviting interface, and its overall look and feel. She described it as "adorable." She told me it reminded her of a "clipboard with a computer in it," something she could easily carry around in her bag and use to access e-mail and Web sites on the go. But beyond that, she couldn't explain exactly why she wanted one so badly. "My response to it was mostly visceral," she says. "I just love it."

All my talk about the iPad in the weeks leading up to its release hadn't done much to convince her, but apparently seeing is believing. That's a large part of why the iPad is, in my mind, so likely to be hugely successful—it's capable of attracting many different kinds of people for their own reasons.

There's a spectrum: For "techie" people like me, the iPad won't replace my laptop, but will complement it nicely. For people like my mom, the iPad could nearly be a primary computing device—she'd only need to use a typical computer occasionally, mostly for transferring content that's not already in the "cloud" to her iPad, like music from CDs. And for someone like my grandmother—who uses a computer exclusively for e-mail and Web browsing—an iPad could replace her computer altogether and make her online experience much simpler and more rewarding. So I know who I'll be bringing along on my next Apple store visit. One Mrs. Yarett down, one to go.

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