Three years ago, when he was just two-years-old, Max Fuller got his first iPhone. His father, Craig Fuller, the CEO of a banking technology company, said it's been an "enormous tool" for teaching him the basics about colors, shapes and letters, and most recently the names of all of the dinosaurs and how they lived. But Fuller most appreciates how it allows his son to communicate with him, since he's divorced and lives in a different state. They video-chat almost daily. "It gives me a chance to be in his life, even if I am not around as much as I would desire." He expects to give his one-year-old, who lives with him, an iPhone, as soon as he's ready. "I think it's one of the most incredible tools ever made for helping kids understand the world."
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Max Fuller isn't the only young child hooked on technology. Melanie Rogers' two oldest children, now nine and 11, got their own cell phones when they were eight and nine and both own Nintendo Dsi’s. All her children share an iPad and they each own an iPod touch, including her four-year-old, who got hers last year. Rogers, who lives in Mesa, Arizona, thinks it's useful that they begin to become "exposed to the technology that is in all our lives."
Though Apple is actively marketing the iPad as a valuable learning tool for children and teens, many experts are wary about the effects on young, developing minds. They point to studies that show a strong relationship between increased media use and cases of attention deficit hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and worry that children’s real-life social skills will be permanently damaged. But in an increasingly technology-focused society and economy – jobs in science and technology fields are expected to grow twice as fast as jobs in other sectors over the next 10 years – others argue that exposure to technology, no matter how early, will only help children develop into the tech-savvy adults the country needs.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree
According to data gathered by global strategic marketing agency Kids Industries, between September and December, 2011, 20 percent of children ages three to eight own their own iPod touch, while 24 percent of U.S. children in this age group own their own iPad and 8 percent own their own iPhone. For teens, the numbers are considerably higher. An April 2011 survey by financial advisory firm Piper Jaffray found that 80 percent of teenagers own a type of iPod, 17 percent own an iPhone (37 percent expected to buy one in the next six months), and 22 percent have an iPad (20 percent who expected to buy one in the next six months).
This has led to a booming new market for Apple, which just yesterday announced a dividend plan and stock buyback that once again sent its stock soaring. Apps designed for kids in the Apple store are estimated to be 15 percent of a $14 billion industry that includes downloads, advertising and in-app commerce in 2012; this total number is projected to rise to $37 billion by 2015.
Developers "have really helped make experiences [on the iPad] incredible for kids."
What's driving much of the activity is the fast-growing popularity of the iPad. The latest version was released last Friday and analysts expect sales to exceed the iPad 2. Alan Warms, executive chairman and founder of Appolicious, said the iPad is appealing as a device that everyone in the family can use, instead of a specialized hardware device just for a child. Developers – big names like Disney, Viacom and Nickelodeon – "have really helped make these experiences incredible for kids," Warms says.
When Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children's Technology Review, declared the iPad the Toy of the Year in a January 30, 2010 blog for The New York Times, "people thought I was insane," he said. "They thought, why would you give a sheet of glass to kids?" Now, he feels vindicated. He says the iPads' durability, plus its 10-hour battery life, are huge plusses for parents looking for a gadget for their child.
The Education of iChildren
Many educators are also embracing the technology. This past fall, the Auburn, Maine school district spent $200,000 to provide 280 iPads, apps, cases and headphones for all kindergartners. Educators there are relying on iPads to help close the county’s achievement gap. In some schools, 60 percent of kindergartners are meeting state standards, compared with 20 percent in two local schools that have a higher portion of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
"The iPad could be the game changer," said Katherine Grondin, superintendent of the Auburn School Department. She said teachers have used it to customize learning for each student, and they’ve already reported improvements in students' language skills, and higher levels of engagement. However, many parents and experts have voiced skepticism about the program. Larry Cuban, author of Oversold and Underused: Computers in Schools, says the benefits of computers for young children have yet to be proved.