Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
2011 pushes one demographic segment into the next -- confounding marketers. The terms 'seniors' -- and senior citizens, elderly, aged, older adults -- and various other monikers have been around for a long time. But it's a new year. This year, as 10,000 per day (680,000 this year so far) of those trend-shaking baby boomers turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, seize on any remaining 'senior citizen' discounts, and view next year's eligibility to take full Social Security, the pre-senior baby boomer population will dwindle by more than 3 million. And so on for the next 18 years. How can marketers straddle both sides of the boomer-senior divide at the same time? Perhaps they will attempt euphemistic subtlety - especially since everyone knows that baby boomers don't want to see themselves as old (or as represented by any of the above terms). So step one for vendors -- stop describing and marketing products by age category, so required and peculiar to the tech industry. Unlike cars, light bulbs, washing machines, radios, even bicycles with comfortable seats, where vendors don't know who might buy them, they market to all ages to be safe.
In the tech world, the problem originated with the technology - not the user. Unlike those all-age consumer providers above, technology vendors have (so far) resisted the concept of spanning multiple age markets. It is truly amazing to search the Internet for 'senior computers' or 'senior cell phones' on CNET or The New York Times. Way back in 1998, computer users were divided into the "Have and the Want Nots." And rightly so -- user interfaces (never mind admin behind the scenes) have over the years ranged from impenetrable to barely self-descriptive. So it's no wonder that the past 20+ years have spawned so many different senior solutions, from overlay software to different hardware to large keyboards to amplified phones -- each has addressed an aspect of the tech market that was difficult to use.
The future will be different -- we will migrate from age orientation to ease of use to tech for all ages. As we look down the path and see the marching baby boomers-turning-seniors, the tech industry will increasingly act like other industries, eliminating its historical tech-for-young-engineers bias. They will help eradicate the need for mitigating solutions and training to cope with hard-to-use technology -- and eventually the deep-seated resistance to tech use will be a memory. If the iPad's popularity has proven anything, it's that easier-to-use and appealing user interfaces can find a market in multiple age groups, including people who are over age of 70, especially tech that is brightly back-lit with adjustable text size that doesn't need an IT department to keep it virus-free. In fact, it's now apparent that amplification, brightness adjustment, text size, text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and touch screen adjustability -- these are features (or attributes). All tech products should have them -- and increasingly all tech products will have them. These features will render technology for seniors less important than included services and support; the call center as important as the device used to call it; the 'social' will become the important part of networking.
How long it takes will depend less on tech features, more on marketing skills. The iPad's 'magical' marketing wizardry reveals something Apple knew and its tech counterparts didn't -- that ease-of-use (and style) would be unique; that context (you too can be in this picture!) and service (oh Geniuses!) matter as much as the tech itself. And amazingly, that constraints and limitations could be a positive -- yet another comment on tradition which specified features that were not used. The baby boomers turning 65 want to be at the bar, so to speak, having a magical experience, with a technology product that may appeal as much to a 20-something as a 75-something -- and that doesn't require that they self-label as 'seniors'. And really, they don't insist that this experience come from Apple. It could come from Verizon or Microsoft, from Research in Motion, from Radio Shack, or from Dell. Imagine.