Feb 20 2013

Do iPads Make Reading Easier for Seniors?

New research points to the advantages of reading on backlit electronic devices rather than paper.

The benefits of using tablets in education have been touted loudly for the past few years, but new evidence indicates that iPads, specifically, could also be beneficial for senior citizens.

According to a small German study published in PLOS ONE, people aged 60 to 77 were able to read material 2.5 seconds faster on an iPad than on paper, reports NBC News. Why iPads specifically and not tablets in general? The backlight makes a difference.

Traditional e-readers were no help: Reading a short page of text on a Kindle took the older group about 28 seconds, the longest of the three. Switching to the printed book shaved 1.5 seconds off the time. But reading on an iPad took just 24 seconds, that's 2.5 seconds faster than reading on paper. While that may not represent a big timesaver when skimming news headlines, it could save hours reading War and Peace.

The researchers concluded that the iPad's backlighting, which was adjusted to the brightest setting, made the difference. All tablets use backlighting, while e-readers use what's called an E Ink display that provides less contrast than a brighter tablet.

Reading speeds for tablets versus books

There are, of course, other advantages to eReaders that use E Ink displays: They’re easier to read in the sunlight and they use less energy. But now tablets have one more notch under their belt: They can help senior citizens get through their favorite novels that much faster.

Which makes Elaine Amsterdam Farley’s anti-digital library rant somewhat humorous.

"I do not use a computer. I have many friends who are elderly who do not use a computer and the idea that there would no longer be libraries and books to read, which I just heard on the radio station, is outrageous. How're you gonna crawl in bed and hold a computer for criminy's sake? You go to bed with a good book!” she exclaimed in a comment to NPR’s Marketplace about its report on libraries ditching paper-based reading material for iPads and eReaders.

If she embraced her e-future, she could probably read more books than ever.