Biggest users of $500 iPad? Kids reading books

Megan Notarte bought an iPad on the first day it was available, and planned to keep it for herself. But as the mother of two boys, ages 2 and 4, she soon discovered that she would have to share this newest toy from Apple with her sons.

Notarte, a blogger and Web developer, is only half joking when she says she has contemplated buying two so that she won't have to share her iPad.

"My kids love playing games on it and watching movies we've downloaded on iTunes," she wrote to WalletPop in an e-mail. "My 4-year-old plays by himself and with me, depending on the complexity of the app. Also, we've delayed replacing our handy portable DVD player because I think the iPad will be a more-than-sufficient replacement."

Since her oldest son isn't quite at reading age, Notarte says the most reading they've done is via the Super Why app, which teaches basic reading skills. She plans to download some new books to see how he likes them.

Spending $500 or more on an iPad and buying games, books and movies for it seems like a lot of money to shell out to entertain a child. But it's a trend that's becoming too common in the short life of the iPad: Parents buying book apps for the iPad so their children can read, or they can read to their children. An AOL News story recently reported that 81%, or 13 of the 16 top book applications for the iPad, are children's titles.

Is it worth a $500 device to read to your children when a $10 book, or a free book from the library, will accomplish the same? In the long run, probably, as far as cost goes. A book app can cost 99 cents, which can be 10 times less than their printed counterparts.

"We certainly do not want to take away the opportunities for a parent to put their arm around their child and read to them," Bob Budlow, president of MobiStories, a website that sells digital books for kids and so far has one iPad book app, in a telephone interview with WalletPop.

The iPad offers the chance to carry a large number of books in a small space, making a car trip a lot easier, while still giving parents the chance to hold their children and read to them, Budlow said.

I've written before about Fisher-Price making iPhone apps for preschoolers, a move that child experts told me was fine as long as parents weren't using it as a babysitter.

In less than a month of owning an iPad, it has cemented itself in the bedtime rituals for Christopher Cummings and his three children, boys ages 8 and 6 years, and 19 months, although the youngest doesn't get too involved with the technology.

"Prior to the iPad, our bedtime ritual was to read a storybook or kid-friendly comic book," Cummings, manager of, an online game show site, wrote in an e-mail to WalletPop. "Post-iPad, our evening routine is for each of us to play a round of 'Plants Vs. Zombies' (a Popcap game) on the iPad. Then we read a story on it -- sometimes a traditional book, but more likely a kid-friendly digitized comic book -- which either I read to them or they read to me.

Suzanne Popkin wrote in an e-mail to WalletPop that her children, ages 5 and 7, love the iPad more than the iPhone. Popkin limits them to 30 minutes of screen time a day, and while she wishes she could say she uses it with them, it helps give her a break while running around the house making dinner, cleaning and doing all of the many things a parent needs to do.

Popkin, who creates iPad and iPhone storybook apps for kids, said the iPad is the perfect medium for kids in many ways because it can hold a huge library of apps at reasonable prices, has multi-touch screen, strong batteries and Internet access.

I still say there's nothing better than holding your kid and reading a real, printed book to them. If the medium is the message, then give me an old message.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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