Since I purchased my iPad, I've had a lot of questions come my way. Is it really worth it? Do you like it? Are you just an Apple Fan-boy, or do you have too much money? Many of them are questions based on media coverage of the iPad, the assumptions made by technologists on the iPad, and the arguments made by others in the industry that feel threatened by the new medium of tablets. So, I thought I would talk about why I have the iPad, why I purchase Apple products, and how it relates to my son's condition.
First, if you have iTunes, open up to the iTunes Store, and then run a search for Autism. As of this writing, there are 153 apps for the iPhone that come up, and an additional 7 that are specifically for the iPad. Most of these are flash card apps for learning to write, read, and speak. But at the heart of these are augmentative and alternative communication software like Proloquo2go, iCommunicate, iSpeak4U, and so on. That means any person who has trouble talking or is completely non-verbal can use an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad as a communication device. At it's most expensive it would be roughly $700.00 for such a device.
There is an alternative to using an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, and that is to buy an AAC device. These tend to run in the thousands, between $5000.00 to $10,000.00. The software is similar (if not the same), and the results are the same. So, in the end, Apple, with the help of several third party developers, have managed to mainstream a specialty device, making it more affordable for those families that are in need but can't afford $5000.00 for a device to help their child speak.
Now, you may say that Apple isn't the only tablet on the block, and you would be right. There are several tablets that currently exist, which are tablet PC's, and can have normal software installed on them. They generally run at $2,000.00 (roughly), with an additional $200.00 for AAC software to be installed. So the Apple solution is still a bargain.
But what about the Android market? Surely I can't spend all my time looking at Apple when Linux in the form of Android is there. Well, I checked out the Android Marketplace through AndoidZoom.com, and searched for Autism. I found a total of three apps, one for recording your voice and matching it to a picture, one for learning phonics, and one to give suggestions for treatment of Autism (which I would consider suspect until it is proven useful). Not one was an AAC system, Now, this of course is not Andoid's fault, or Google's, but rather the marketplace that Android represents. Obviously interest in Autism and helping nonverbal people communicate is not a priority for third party developers that want to target the Andriod market.
So where does that leave those families that have a need of some assistance and tools, but don't have the funds for truly expensive devices? Quite frankly, it leaves them with Apple and their iPhone OS lineup. At least for the moment. As Android (as an OS) has finally outsold the iPhone (I don't think the iPhone OS, just the iPhone), the market is expanding. And with the rumored Tablets coming, it looks like things can get interesting. If the HP Slate ever gets released with a full version of Windows 7, it could present a huge leap forward for AAC devices in the mainstream.
We are at an exciting period in technology. Smaller, full featured devices are becoming more common, less expensive, more portable, and easier to use. That means those with disabilities can and will be better served with even more affordable solutions. So before you start labeling everyone with an iPad a "fan-boi," perhaps you should consider the real, grown-up reasons for tablets and how they can be used. That's something that is rarely reported on in the Technology columns, and remains a disappointment for me.