Kids and the Future of Touchscreens

As expected, tech geeks and other early adopters have flocked to pick up an Apple iPad in its first week of release. But when it comes to long-term usage of touchscreen devices like the iPad, I’m putting my money on a different consumer segment … kids!

According to IT research company Gartner, by 2015 more than half of the computers purchased for users under 15 years old will have touchscreens. Last year (2009) that number was a mere two percent. Gartner’s research also predicts that businesses will only account for 10 percent of touchscreen technology by 2015. The education sector, on the other hand, will lead the charge.

“Consensus among the Gartner client U.S. school districts is that over half, and possibly as many as 75 percent, will be specifying touch and/or pen input within the next five years,” said Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner. “Consider this as the precursor to a major upcoming generational shift in how users relate to their computing devices.”

When it comes to kids and computers, touch devices have an inherent advantage over the traditional keyboard and mouse. If you’ve ever seen a preschooler navigate an iPhone, iPod Touch or an iPad, it’s an amazing sight. It’s just natural. To this day, I’m still at awe at how easily my three-year old is able to access her favorite videos, games and pictures on my iPod Touch. Yet, when I put her in front of my iMac, she simply bangs on the keyboard and plays with the mouse with no success. I anticipate she’ll do just fine with an iPad.

So exactly how much easier is an iPad to use for a preschooler? If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a video that has been spreading like wildfire of a two-year old girl using an iPad for the very first time. Watch how she approaches the device and immediately figures out how to use it:

It just goes to show that the conventional computer keyboard and mouse can sometimes be more of a hindrance to online preschool education than we had originally thought. While it’s true that kids today are tech-savvy, there are still developmental issues to contend with—issues which tactile devices seem to help overcome.

So what’s the implication for anyone developing online content for kids? Start thinking in terms of touchscreens. Ask yourself how your existing youth content will translate to touchscreen devices. Explore new ways of developing content that fully utilizes touchscreen technology. Download and explore existing kid apps that take full advantage of touchscreen technology. Some of my favorites are Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, Toy Story Mania, Elmo’s Monster Maker and Martian for iPhone. The sooner we make the transition the better, because 2015 will be here before we know it.

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