Smart devices as cognitive prosthetics

iOS or Android?

Smart devices can be used as cognitive prosthetics, e.g., as memory or organization aids for people with cognitive challenges. At this time, iOS devices make better cognitive prosthetics than Android devices. Here's why.

The term “cognitive prosthetic” is becoming more and more popular. A cognitive prosthetic, in the way I will use the term, refers to a smart device of some kind (e.g., iPod Touch, phone, tablet, etc.) that can be used to assist individuals with cognitive-communication impairments that impact them on a daily basis. The devices can provide assistance with many commonly identified issues including those related to memory, organization, and executive functioning. I’m sure cognitive prosthetics weren’t the first thing on the minds of those that brought smart devices to the marketplace; however, the devices have opened up a whole new world for those living with cognitive challenges.

At the time of this writing, there are two hugely popular brands of smart devices: Apple (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad) and Android (phones, tablets). A frequent question that comes up is which type of device is better for those with cognitive impairments. It is a good question and—I have have to be honest—I have a definite preference. That’s not to say that I won’t change my mind at some point in the future (it has certainly happened before), but I believe the Apple iOS devices are currently the best fit for those living with cognitive challenges, as well as for those who are involved in training individuals to use the devices as cognitive prosthetics.

Let me be clear: both Apple and Android have excellent devices. In fact, they share many common features and apps, such as the Internet, Bluetooth, Calendar, Contacts, Maps, Clocks, etc. Each of these features can significantly help an individual with issues regarding memory, organization, etc. Users of each type of device are very dedicated to their device type. I’m not trying to take away any loyalty you might have to your device; rather, my intent is to share why I recommend Apple devices at this time.

Consistency in the user interface (UI), or the way the user interacts with the device, is one of the primary reasons I recommend Apple iOS devices. The consistency of the UI is extremely important for those living with brain injury or other cognitive issues. iOS devices are the same across devices (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad) and wireless companies. For instance, once an individual learns to use an iPhone, she can use an iPad, etc. Apple has been pretty consistent in the way a user interacts across devices and across versions of the iOS operating system. If a person has a device and then upgrades, the learning curve is small to non-existent because the devices look and act the same. In contrast, there are a wide variety of Android devices available from a number of manufactures and wireless companies. Each Android device is slightly different. For instance, the physical buttons vary from phone to phone and the opening screen typically appears different from device to device and service provider to service provider. What many perceive as an advantage (the variety and flexibility of Android devices) is actually a disadvantage for the brain injury community.

Another reason for my recommendation of iOS devices is the integration of accessibility features. I realize Android has some accessibility features, but Apple has dedicated and continues to dedicate resources to making their devices accessible. Does this mean that they are perfect? Well, no; however, with each new iOS version, additional accessibility features are integrated.

Let me also mention that it isn’t just up to Apple to integrate accessibility features. Apple has created the iOS Human Interface Guidelines for app developers—tools available to app developers to help integrate accessibility into non-native apps; however, app developers must take the time to plan for and integrate accessibility.