One of the foundational elements of the Apple experience has always been a sense of community. Being from a Windows background, I only have a few years of personal experience with this phenomenon, but I have always been aware of its existence. If you haven’t been a part of the Apple ecosystem for very long, it can be a little difficult to understand, but it is everywhere you look. From enthusiast sites and blogs, to podcasts, to user groups, to the Apple retail stores themselves, there is something at the core of the Apple experience that seems to inspire a higher lever of loyalty and devotion than your typical computer or electronics manufacturer.
I recently had the opportunity to observe this community aspect of Apple and its products first hand, as I had the pleasure to attend and cover an event at my church, Longview Heights Baptist Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi. It really summed up this sense of community, and how that experience is changing and growing due to the overwhelming popularity of products based on iOS. The event in question was an iPad Fellowship which was sponsored by the church, and open to anyone who wanted to learn more about iOS and how to get the most out of it. The class was taught by Lawson Culver, a longtime member of the church who is a local IT Professional, developer, and a longtime fan of Apple products.
According to Mr Culver, the idea for this event came out of discussions during the course of a recent project that he worked on for the church. He developed a web-based application to aid the church staff, including the Executive Pastor, Dr. Tom Savage. While demoing and training on the new application, Mr. Culver showed Dr. Savage his iPad 1 and demonstrated some of the things he used it for. Before too long, Dr Savage purchased an iPad of his own. Knowing that many members of the church already owned iPads, and that some were already using them for personal Bible study and to take notes during classes or church services, Dr. Savage came up with the idea of a class where new users could learn the basics of iOS and the Apple ecosystem, as well as about apps and resources that are available for Bible study.
Announcements for the iPad Fellowship started popping up during service and in the church’s bulletin a few weeks in advance, and I immediately took notice. I had personally been using Laridian’s PocketBible and DataVis’ DocsToGo on my 1st Gen iPad in church services and classes for several months, and various PDAs and smartphones for the 10 years before that. I had also seen a growing number of people using iPads and iPhones throughout the congregation, but the announcement of a church sponsored event having to do with Apple devices took me a little by surprise. It’s one thing for a revolutionary device like the iPad to be adopted by members of a church. It’s quite another for a church, or any organization for that matter, to embrace the technology and take it upon itself to educate its members about it. I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed.
The iPad Fellowship was scheduled to take place at Longview Heights Baptist Church at 6:30 PM on Monday, March 7. I signed up for the event a week in advance, and there were 17 other people signed up on the list at that time. Considering that Monday night isn’t a very common night for church events, and that the final games of our church’s Upward Basketball season were that same night (which both of my boys played in, making for a busy night of running back and forth between buildings videoing and taking pictures for me), I was curious how large the turnout would be. I was surprised to see that there were around 40 people in attendance at the fellowship, making the class a big success in my opinion.
The majority of the class was devoted to the most basic aspects of the iPad and iOS, starting with the built-in apps, and then progressing to include iTunes, the App Store, and iBooks. Mr. Culver used an Apple VGA adapter and (jailbreak screen app) to mirror his iPad’s screen to a couple of large HDTVs in the classroom, which gave the attendees an easy way to follow along with him on their own devices.
There were plenty of examples of well-known books, games, and other apps given, and there was also a lot of time spent addressing questions from the attendees.
At the end of the presentation, people visited with each other, sharing information amongst themselves, as well as asking more specific questions of Mr Culver and Dr Savage, as well. By the time everyone had cleared out and gone home, the iPad Fellowship had lasted more than 1 1/2 hours.
While the content of this class wasn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, there were other aspects of it that stood out to me. First, while the content was similar to what I would imagine you would see in many basic Apple user groups or get-togethers, the location and setting struck me as unique. As I said before, I was impressed that my church’s staff took the initiative to put this event on. Apple products, especially those running iOS, have achieved an incredible level of success and have become part of mainstream of consumer electronics, so naturally, they are easy to find wherever you look these days. This is just as true in a church as in any other place in society today.
I just find it refreshing that my church is making an effort to embrace this technology, teach its members and others about it, and hopefully harness it further. This iPad Fellowship really met a need for many in attendance, as many of them had little or no knowledge of computers or technology, and had no idea how many things the iPad is capable of doing. As fascinating and cool as wonders of technology like the iPad can be to the geeks among us, at their core, they are tools. The more you know about what the tool can do and how to use it, the better off you will be using it. I observed several attendees who walked away with a much better understanding of the powerful and flexible device they were holding in their hands, and were excited about what they had learned.
Of course, the idea of a class like this one isn’t exclusive to churches or other religious organizations. Informative iOS classes for novice users would be fitting in any civic or community organization. Thanks to its clean and simple interface, iPad’s are more accessible than desktop and laptop computers, so it is natural that there will be a number iPad owners with limited computer skills or knowledge in any slice of society. Where taking the step of going to a user’s group may seem a little too intimidating for a new novice user or someone just interested in Apple products, attending a class in a setting where you are already comfortable is going to open the learning experience up to a new and larger audience. I certainly hope that other organizations whose members can benefit from the wide array of powerful apps and service available for iOS will consider offering this same type of class at some point.
Another aspect of the iPad Fellowship that was surprising to me was the turnout. Considering the factors that I mentioned earlier, I was expecting between 15 and 20 people to show up. I think that having up to 40 attendees come and stay over an hour on a Monday night shows that there is definitely demand for just this sort of class.
As I already mentioned, the vibe I got talking to some of the attendees as they were getting ready to leave was very positive, especially from the more novice users. They felt that the class was time well spent. With that kind of positive word of mouth, I would imagine that a follow-up class would be as or more successful.
While the fact that this class was put on by my church and the turnout were eye opening, the aspect of my church’s iPad Fellowship that surprised me the most was the age range of the audience. While there was a mix of men, women, and even a couple of children of different ages, the average age of the group was much higher than I would have initially expected for a class specificially related to an electronic gadget. Thinking about it now, however, I guess the fact that there was a predominance of senior adult iPad owners in this class shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. This actually demonstrates exactly what makes the iPad such a powerful piece of technology.
Thanks to their attention to detail and design, easy to use iOS interface, and incredible ecosystem, Apple’s products have always been more approachable than the rest of the computer and electronics industry’s. However, I think that the iPad in particular is the culmination of Apple’s perfect storm in consumer electronics landscape. It is far easier to use than any desktop OS device, it has a low enough price that people can afford it without breaking the bank, it has a wide variety of inexpensive, easy to purchase and easy to use apps, it’s portable, the battery life is excellent, it has a large, readable screen, and you can purchase it without being tied to a cell phone provider’s contract.
I think that those last two points are particularly key for senior adults. iPhones and iPod Touches have many of the same positive attributes going for them, but the iPhone is tied to cell phone plans and contracts, and both the iPhone and iPod Touch have somewhat small screens. The iPad removes those two disadvantages, making it a very appealing piece of hardware for someone who just wants to fulfill basic computing needs in a simple and easy way.
Don’t get me wrong, now. I know that there are many senior adults who are very computer literate. My Dad is one of them. He is on his laptop all the time, and can handle any basic computing task with ease. However, I have noticed that, as technology has pushed further with more power and new features, he has gotten more and more weary of the various bugs, viruses, glitches, and crashes that come with along with them. There are times when he just gets frustrated, throws his hands up, and then calls me and asks me to come fix whatever it is that is messing up his experience. Considering how much of my work time already gets eaten up tracking down bugs and helping others with these same types of issues, I can’t really blame him. I don’t want to spend my personal time doing these same tasks any more than he does. This is one of the reasons that I own Apple mobile devices. THEY JUST WORK. I may be stuck in the Windows world at work, but I don’t have to be at home or on the go.
For even those senior adults who know their way around a keyboard, I can see how the iPad is an very appealing device for the very same reasons. It isn’t intimidating. It doesn’t crash. It doesn’t take forever to boot up. You don’t have to shut it down. You don’t have to worry about plugging it in every hour. It just comes on, you do what you want to do, and turn it back off. Simple. Easy. Uncomplicated. I don’t think this can possibly be overstated.
For those seniors who know little to nothing about computers, it seems that the iPad has become an easier on ramp to technology highway that they’ve heard about, but maybe shied away from in the past. However, with very little frame of reference to go off of, even the iPad’s relatively simple iOS interface can seem daunting, at first. That is a huge reason why this iPad Fellowship was significant. It was the most novice of the attendees who seemed the most impressed with the class, because it gave them some of the ground rules for using the iPad. It helped to provide that frame of reference to get started with. Once you have those basics down and start playing around a bit, the rest will come with time and a little more education.
I started off this article talking about how central community has always been to the Apple experience. There is just something about their devices that engenders a kind of loyalty that you don’t see with most technology companies. Sure, there are others with loyal followings out there, but Apple has been around the longest of them, and been the most successful in fostering that loyalty. Since the introduction of iOS, with its lower cost compared to Macs and Macbooks, the Apple community has grown tremendously, and in many new directions. It is the combination of the hardware, OS, ecosystem, and price that Apple offers that is making computing accessible to a much wider audience. All rolled into one, this powerful combination will only further the sense of community that is already a part of the Apple experience, leading to more and more events like my church’s iPad Fellowship.
I wanted to write this article in hopes that any of you reading who are leaders or members of other religious or civic organizations would follow the lead of Longview Heights Baptist Church, and sponsor technology events for the benefit of your fellow members and/or the community at-large. Teaching others to take advantage of the tools that they already have or may be considering purchasing will only make make your organization stronger and more productive.