Prognostications about Great Gadgets

Last Saturday, the AARP national convention featured a session called Great Gadgets.  Three speakers were on the panel representing AARP, the Consumer Electronics Association and Annenberg School at USC. Here is a summary of their prognostications and a few of my own: 1) content anywhere/everywhere; 2) few early adopters; 3) tablets are here to stay as the fourth screen; 4) the future is more tech, more places and 5) he who builds the product that needs the least support will win. Read on for the details.

Content Anywhere and Everywhere. Yes, even older adults are getting used to anywhere and everywhere content. We know from Pew and the Annenberg information that 65+ crowd is slower at adopting tech, but for those that have, they are becoming used to content everywhere and anywhere they want. This is certainly true for the future. Many of today’s frailty products are geared toward the frail user in one place and the concerned family member in another. My 89-year-old friend, Bob, just got an Android smart phone because he thought he needed one to understand all the hoopla. He has discovered, though, that he still hates texting.

Older Adults are not Early Adopters. Most older adults are not early adopters. I like to think that is because we are more experienced and know that there are risks: price and performance are not “features” of early adoption. We all know that if we wait just a bit, we’ll see massive price reductions on the devices (unless they are from Apple.) Look at the price of flat screen TVs today compared to 5 years ago. HP’s recent very brief foray into the tablet business underscores another early adoption risk: that the company will abandon the product and you’ll be stuck with no support, no software. Cisco did the same thing by abandoning the Flip video camera. And, anyone who has purchased Apple or Microsoft software products early in their lifespan knows, that bugs exist. It reminds me of advice regarding prescription medication: wait until the drug has been out for 7 years before adding it to your regimen. If we change that to “tech years”, it means wait for 1-2 months to find out if there are any serious bugs (remember the iPhone 4 debacle where you had to hold the phone a certain way to allow it to work?)

Four Screens: TV, PC, Tablets, Smart Phones. For many years, the geek and entertainment industry have been referring to three screens in the home that encompass the TV, computer/Internet and mobile phone. Now, they’ve added a fourth screen; the tablet. One of the speakers noted that only 4 to 6% of individuals need personal computers. Most would function just fine with the modified functionality of a tablet. I agree. There was some discussion on why tablets were transformational including the touchscreen and the 5-minute-learning-curve. I would like to add a few more starting with apps that are cheaper than most PC and Mac software and keep you from having to type your password a million times. To me, the awesome battery life of many of the tablets is another core feature. You can watch a movie on a long plane ride and still check your email upon landing. With occasional use during the day, you can go a few days without tethering to power. As one speaker noted, these devices give you the ability to “lean back” and utilize the content as you would a traditional book or newspaper: cookbook in the kitchen, HBO in the bedroom, remote control in the family room, note taking at meetings, picture book for family and friends, etc.

The TV is still the dominant screen in many households (certainly older adult households) and, in most households, there are more TVs that people. Imagine where the tablet will fit into these homes. The color Nook is tabletesque and runs a modified version of Android for $229. The just-launched Amazon Kindle Fire ($199) is similar but supports all of the Amazon content – books, magazines, movies and music plus a new super-fast browsing system that takes advantage of their massive cloud machines. The iPad is still dominating the market with the best battery life and the iTunes and Apps stores. A few of the Android tablets might hang in there if the price point comes down a bit … already ASUS and ACER offerings are in the mid $300s. A Philadelphia newspaper is giving away tablets if you subscribe to their paper for two years.  Will this be the way to get tech into resistant older adult hands?

15 Minutes into the Future.  The speakers brought some technologies with them as futuristic. One explained how eBook readers are morphing into the lightweight tablets. Another showed the Karotz Robotic Rabbit which was interesting but felt like an expensive toy. Another mentioned that Best Buy has told TV manufacturers that they will not be stocking any TVs in the future that don’t include WIFI.

But, What Did the Audience Want to Know? When it came time for questions, it was really clear that the audience wanted simple, easy-to-manage technology solutions in their home. Most of the audience had computers in the home and a fair number had smart phones. But the questions kept tending to “how do I do X? This is validated in an informal survey we are doing in San Diego where older adults say that technical support is one of the biggest issues for them (and probably why they are reluctant to add more gadgets into their repertoire.)

IMHO the moral of the story is this: Make it easy to use. Make it hard to break. And, make sure you have nice, quality technical support if it does. And, if you are starting from scratch, look at tablets and TVs as the two dominant screens in the older adult household.

What did the audience want to know?

Dear Susan,

Great article. It's true that older adults are adopting more technology, though as late-adopters. I'm thinking of buying a tablet pc soon myself. I also have many questions when it comes to computers. I'm interested to know, what are older adults asking about when asking "how do I do X?"

Thank You,
Don

Totally agree.

I totally agree... tablets and TVs will be the dominant screens in homes in the near future. And it makes sense - they are easy to use, light, have a long battery life and are ++portable. You can easily take it with you when you go out or use it while sitting on the couch watching the TV.

The market that it really works for is seniors... my 92 yr old grandmother picked up a tablet and started using it with little help from me. I showed her where the photos were and she figured out how to flip through them. Simple and intuitive.

With many having front facing cameras - I can see skype and other video messaging services becoming a more common way for families to connect. Not that its not common now but those living at senior housing communities often do not have their own computer - but they could easily have their own tablet.

Thanks for sharing Susan!

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