The Japanese offer us a device-eye lens into US in 2030... or maybe today. Heads up. See what $255 buys today in Japan for monitoring and communicating with an aging parent. The Mi-Look phone, recently announced by Kyocera, helps us look into our tech future, circa 2030, when a relatively niche US market will have grown to become a mainstream expectation. By that date, the age 65+ population will have reached the current Japanese percentage of approximately 22 percent. There will be nearly 52 million people 70 and older in the US, well over the current target population for the Mi-Look phone, which represents a 12 million current senior market size in Japan. So at that point, there should be quite a bit of demand for cleverness. Mainstream vendors will trip over themselves to offer high function/low price tech anyone could use without training and away from the home. But hey, what do you know, given the prospective market size of 12 million aged 70+ that Kyocera has identified in Japan -- wouldn't you know that there are already 27 million in the US today who are age 70+.
Is Mi-Look more than just intriguing for a senior market? Maybe, maybe not – it reminds me of those 1970s Ginsu knife commercials in which the product seems to double as a food chopper, a can opener – but wait, there's more! – it’s also a floor wax! So check out the Mi-Look, hold your breath, here goes: it's is a simple cell phone, a pedometer, a GPS device (for tracking and communicating your whereabouts), a motion sensor that can detect non-movement, a PERS device with a pull cord to notify caregivers or even the police. That’s quite a bit of functionality packed into a $255 device, no contract required. Although Kyocera left out a few things – fall detection, walking turn-by-turn spoken navigation, a camera and Skype – all of which can be found in today’s smartphone. Don’t they have them in Japan? Probably not there or anywhere among older adults – in the US only 11% of the 65+, according to Pew’s last report. The under-adoption may be due to current difficulty in using the device (small buttons, skinny viewing area, weird keyboards, touchy screens) and may be due to underwhelming marketing to older adults by carriers. Or both.
But no services as part of the offer – that makes no sense. The Japanese never give up on gadgets and gizmos (and robots and remote controls). And certainly the functionality of the Mi-Look should, in fact make its way into a viable phone in the US market. We will see carriers add the remaining functionality of a smart phone – and tie in the services – robust, senior-aware call centers of all types, including nurses. For example, check out GreatCall’s LiveNurse, 5Star Urgent Response, and MedCoach on the iPhone. Other senior phone services in the US – like Consumer Cellular (an AARP brand), and Doro are services that have many US partnerships, but to my knowledge, have not yet stepped up health-related services as I believe they must. To me, a cool multi-function, low-priced gadget integrated with age-aware services that make seniors safer, more connected with family and caregivers, out and about as well as near-home, that's what we need. Hopefully well before 2030.