On buying your mum a tablet

My mum had been dropping hints about getting a tablet for a while. We – the kids – were a little surprised at this as mum is by no means a technophile, but she’d read in a magazine of the wonders of tablets and the hints kept coming. Since mum does like to skype her grandchildren, read newspapers and watch the BBC we decided that, despite her mixed history with electronic gifts, the tablet might work out. To make it a great present, we knew we needed to make the tablet seem as friendly and straightforward as possible. Maybe a couple of days too late, but here my tips for creating a magical tablet experience for mothers.

Choose it well
The 7″ format is great for my mum, small and light enough she can carry it around in her bag. Even the size feels familiar – like a slim hardback book. The contenders in this weight class are the Kindle Fire, iPad Mini and the Nexus 7. We went for the Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire is locked in to Amazon’s distribution and misses out on a lot of apps. Also important was the fact the Google is committed to keeping their Nexus range as up to date as possible, we wanted a tablet that mum could use for years. As operating systems get out of date app developers tend to forget about them, so even if always getting the latest apps isn’t important to your mum you should get something future proof, for me this means Nexus.

Get the set-up out of the way
Google, Apple, Amazon all claim their tablets *just work*. They don’t. On first use, there are always disclaimers to be read, signing in to be done. My mum reads the T’s & C’s down to the comma and she didn’t have a gmail account, this would have been a big chore. So I removed the Nexus 7 from its plastic screen protector – do it carefully so you can slide it back in – after creating a new gmail account and signing in to our home’s Wi-Fi (an important step) I had to install an update and restart. And again. And again. And again. It was ridiculous and makes for a terrible first impression. Get it out of the way!

Tailor the experience
Setting the desktop as a family photo immediately transforms an impersonal piece of plastic into something individual and familiar. Next step: get the right apps on the home screen. In our case this was Skype, the Guardian Android app, Google Currents (set up with magazines I know my mum likes) & BBC iPlayer. For US readers it might be NPR, NYT. Whatever interests your mum, search for the right apps. Maybe also add books to a Kindle app or Google Books. If you’re an Android dev don’t forget to sneak some of your own apps on.

Now charge it to the top, put it back in the box and wrap it up.

Gift given: your work is not done
However much work you put in setting up the device, unless your mum has experience of smartphones, you’ll need to spend some time explaining how it works: where the buttons are, that the screen is capacitive – you don’t need to press hard, how it charges, how you exit apps, what a ‘settings’ icon looks like, that you hit ‘share’ if you want to email a photo. My mum has really taken to her tablet, and here’s the weird thing, while I have 3 tablets on my desk I don’t actually use them except for testing OpenSignal – I read and watch films on my computer. Soon my mum will be teaching me.

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