Jan 28 2013

Tablets Are So User-Friendly, Even Apes Can Use Them

The National Zoo’s Apps4Apes program shows how universally accessible touch-based mobile devices can be.

Many people have openly marveled at how quickly children adapt to the iPad’s simple, intuitive user interface.

Ben Worthen of The Wall Street Journal recalled how he introduced his 2-year-old son to Apple’s tablet and sat back while it entertained and educated his child.

I first let my son use a borrowed iPad on a cross-country flight when he was 2½ years old. He had cried for four straight hours on a previous trip, and I hoped the iPad would keep him entertained. He understood how to use it instantly and for five hours played kids' games, used a drawing app and watched episodes of "Curious George."

Well, guess what? Not only are tablets so user-friendly that even kids can use them, zookeepers are proving that tablets are so easy to use that even apes can use them.

The team at the Smithsonian National Zoo gave a behind-the-scenes look at its participation in the Apps4Apes program, which zookeepers say provide the orangutans with the essential stimulation they need to keep their minds sharp.

One important element of the program is app diversity.

“It’s really all about having them have the choice. Bonnie, for instance, really likes the drums,” says Erin Stromberg, primate keeper at the National Zoo. “She’s always tapping the screen constantly, so the drums work out really well for her because it’s something that the tapping motion really works well with. Kyle’s a little partial to the piano. I think he likes that one the most. And just today, it seems like our new app with the koi pond, Iris might like that one the most, to just sit and watch the fish go by.”

Additionally, the Apps4Apes program takes a green IT approach to sourcing the iPads. People in the community are free to donate their old iPads, which then go into circulation among the zoos that participate in the program, Stromberg says.

The power of tablets to educate, inform and facilitate productivity seems to turn up curious new use cases regularly. But who knew iPads would be a good fit for the animal kingdom too?