My wife and I made the decision last year to equip our kids with iPads, something that might have sounded excessive only the year before. Now it only makes sense. When you do the math, an iPad (or tablet of choice) for a child makes sense; when you have more than one child, the upfront hardware expenditure is higher, but the savings are even greater.
When the first iPad made its appearance in our house, it quickly became apparent how intuitive it was for the kids to use (for the record, mine are aged 9, 9 and 12 so they are reasonably responsible with fragile gear so long as it's in a protective case). But the thought of spending $500 for what seemed at the time to be a glorified video game system for the kids was impractical at best. A year into iPad ownership and a rapid evolution of what was available changed that scenario. As our household moved further into the digital lifestyle (I'd transitioned to e-readers and e-books, cable was long gone - replaced by Apple TVs and streaming video, music was streaming throughout the house, photos were all digital with occasional printed books) I started to do the math around the iPad equation.
To start off with, my kids are all avid gamers and have owned a series a Nintendo handhelds (from their first GameBoy Advance to DS Lites); the 3DS was on the horizon. If three kids were to eventually upgrade, that's $150 each for the 3DS hardware. Cartridges run $20 to $40 apiece and I don't know about your household, but in mine there will be skirmishes over popular titles. Books and comic books are other items we were investing in heavily, but they were subject to the same squabbles and as an added bonus, paper is not particularly durable. The other advantages began to pile up as we used my wife's iPad and my own through the year:
- Access to multimedia content already available throughout the house via iTunes. Individual iPads can be used to play streamed music, loaded up with music from the iTunes library, play streaming video from the library (handy for example if someone is sick and would like to watch a movie in bed).
- Entertainment on the go. We drive a lot and many of our trips can mean two or more days on the road. I'm not a big fan of in-car entertainment systems (I prefer the ‘look at nature' approach), but 12 or 13 hours is a long time for young kids. By loading an iPad up with movies, comics and games, there are plenty of activities when they're bored and it saves space compared to lugging it all with us. And 10 hours of battery life is hard to beat.
- Rainy day camping entertainment. Basically the same as above, but for those dreaded days when we have the trailer set up, but there's a day or two of rain. Sure, we have boxes of games and craft supplies, but having everything an iPad can offer as a backup is wonderful and makes me dread the rain clouds a lot less.
- Replacement mobile gaming platform. I'm tired of handing $30 to Nintendo every time a new game comes out. While not all iPad games may not be up to the same standard, there are some excellent ones and most are $1 to $5. Better yet, everyone has access to the games at the same time.
- E-Books. Buying a dedicated e-reader is cheaper (and does provide a better all round reading experience), but an iPad isn't bad for an hour or two at a time (so long as you aren't outside). The kids can all read the same book at the same time, the books remain pristine and they can carry a small library with them anywhere we go. Comic books are spectacular on the iPad. I have a NOOK Color as well and I can say that the iPad's 9.7-inch screen blows a smaller tablet away when it comes to the comic reading experience. Because someone is bound to ask, Comic Zeal is my preferred iPad comic book reader - well worth the 5 bucks.
- Educational assistance. While I first looked at the iPad as a way to access enhanced educational multimedia content like The Elements, we soon found that there are many apps available that help with school. We've used math and French quiz apps in particular, finding that they provide an excellent and interactive practice outlet when the parent/child ratio is too low for everyone to have hands-on homework assistance at all times.
- Light duty computer replacement. The kids have a computer to use for homework, but it's set up in their playroom. An iPad offers a decent experience for basic primary school computing needs such as online research and taking notes that can be used in their rooms or at the library.
If you aren't stuck on having a retina-display iPad, you can pick up a first generation refurbished model from Apple - with all the outer components and the battery replaced and the same one year warranty - for $299.
Spending $500 each to buy three kids iPads is expensive, even considering the advantages and the potential for long term savings, but when you can knock the price down to $300 each ($350 for an iPad 2) it stings quite a bit less. We also arranged the timing so that the iPads were their Christmas gift, so that helped the economics further. After three months, I find myself wondering whey we didn't do it earlier. The only downside so far is that I don't have anyone to ‘hand down' my own iPad to, so I'm having a real problem coming up with an excuse to upgrade to a new iPad. Maybe I'll just stick it out until the new, new iPad, iPad 4 or whatever they call next year's version.