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Sometimes it can be hard to decide about new technologies like Apple's iPad. Is it right for your family? Technology expert Alexandra Samuel shares the five questions to ask before deciding whether to buy one of your own.
At 5 a.m. on April 3, I became the fifth person—and the first woman—in line outside the Apple store in Bellevue, Washington. By the time Apple store employees started handing out coffee and cookies, we front-of-the-liners were old friends. When a store employee announced we were allowed to buy only one iPad each, and not the rumored two, I wasn't worried: My husband raced over with our kids so he could buy the second iPad for himself.
But what about Steve, standing right behind me? We'd never met before, but he'd shared his excitement about bringing a couple of iPads back to his office full of video game developers. He looked positively panic-stricken by the news he could buy only one.
As soon as my husband and kids arrived, I flagged down one of the store employees: "Excuse me, but do my kids count toward my iPads-per-person? Because their Uncle Steve here had hoped to buy an iPad for them."
The employee agreed that yes, my kids counted as full, iPad-worthy citizens, and that "Uncle" Steve should feel free to buy an extra iPad for them. We made our iPad purchases as a brief, fictional family: me, my husband, and my pseudo-brother-in-law Steve, who was thus able to buy his two iPads.
If you're feeling shocked that I would lie in an Apple store—my personal equivalent to lying in church—rest assured, I have been amply and appropriately punished. Perhaps it was the kids overhearing me say that we might get them their own iPads, or it was the eager way we handed our new ones over to create a whine-free drive back across the border to Vancouver—whatever it was, the kids now seemingly have their own iPads: ours.
Oh sure, I get to take the iPad to work while they're at school. But it's not really a work computer. It's more of a kick-back, lie-on-the-sofa gadget. And no sooner do I kick back with the iPad than a couple of hands—usually dirty or sticky—pry it away from me.
More than a month into our life as a two-child, two-iPad family, I've come to appreciate this machine as perhaps the perfect kid computer. It's kid-sized, unlike a desktop that looms too large, or a laptop that's too big for a little lap. It's intuitive, especially for kids who've been using their parents' iPhones for the past couple of years. And best of all, it's tactile: Getting rid of the mouse and replacing it with a touch screen gives kids the sense of immediacy that is missing from other tech toys.
Yet I still have misgivings about handing over a $700 machine to a 4- and a 6-year-old. Quite apart from the possibility that our kids will turn the iPads into a couple of very expensive paperweights, I worry about the impact of yet another screen in our already screen-infested house. We've got two TVs (each hooked up to a cable box, PVR and computer), three iPhones, a Wii and a PlayStation: Do our kids really need one more device to keep them info-tained?
5 questions to ask before buying an iPad