I have seen several articles recently about orangutans using iPads to communicate (1 2 3). This is awesome. One point brought up in at least one of the articles though is that the apes can’t actually hold the iPads as the would break them. This got me to thinking that if someone built a tablet which could withstand an orangutan it could be marketed pretty easily as nearly indestructible and good for travel and use by small children.
Apparently there are groups working on iPad apps specifically for use with the orangutans. This is also awesome and led me to another thought. Zoos claim that people who visit and get to see and sometimes interact with the animals are more likely to support conservation efforts. I think something that could go even further would be to write apps where kids get to play a game against an orangutan opponent. A well designed game along these lines could go a long way to helping people understand how intelligent these animals are and how close they are to us in many ways. I don’t think that being similar to us should be a criteria for not being driven into extinction, but at the same time I have no problem with pointing out those similarities to get people’s attention. A really smart approach would be to use this kind of interaction to show that animals in general have their own interests. Similar games could probably be written to play against dolphin opponents (who also already use iPads), as well as crows and parrots (which would probably require designing a very tough touch screen).