Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Tech vendors and seniors – purposeful advocates? Maybe you saw this the other day – how Microsoft and several organizations along with the City of Los Angeles are partnering to launch "Exergamers Wellness Club, which combines technology with exercise, overall health monitoring and evidence-based health education from Partners in Care built around the Kinect and Xbox 360 technology – a program that involves dance, Tai Chi, and other fitness activities. Such a hit, it is being expanded to all senior centers in the city." Note that the announcement actually included Microsoft’s role – both with donation of Kinect and Xbox, but also the use of HealthVault and a personal health application for participating seniors. In fact, Microsoft has, one way or the other, been a named participant in activities for seniors for a number of years, back to the well-intentioned SeniorPC launched in 2007 – the offering was still updated on HP’s site as of last year.
… Or pervasive tech but pointedly silent vendors? Meanwhile, Apple products have been a hit with senior-focused organizations ever since the products appeared. See stories about how I gave my Dad an iPad or 10 must-have iPad apps for seniors. Check out this story about the use of music on iPods as therapy for residents age 85-97 in one senior housing community. It is remarkable to me that Apple says nothing publicly about how its technology is used by older adults – although see how the firm actively promotes its role (and retail store) for youth-oriented tech. And Google is engaged in numerous youth-related programs, but it appears to do nothing publicly that demonstrates interest in seniors. This despite its various products that older adults depend on or might find useful – including Search, Gmail, MAPS, not to mention Google Voice, for free calls, and now voice-enabled search that substantially pre-dates the arrival of Apple's Siri, etc.
What’s a vendor’s advocacy role anyway? Beyond altruism, it's true that young people represent a forever-market to vendors. Capture once, own a relationship forever -- so goes the hope and the hype. And accessibility matters to all vendors, of course, whether it’s Trustworthy Computing (Microsoft) or Accessibility (HP and Apple). Vendors want to be loved, their products purchased and even reimbursed in the vibrant tech market serving the disability community. But are those same vendors actively interested in expanding tech use by seniors? Not so much, not so often, and not so many. The Exergamers Wellness Club in LA and the Virtual Senior Center project at Selfhelp in Queens are labors of love for the senior advocates who pursue partnerships -- with vendors that are interested and willing to share their names in press releases and public promotions. I’d love to hear how Google and Apple organizations talk about their role in helping seniors – there is no evidence online that I can find. No surprise, Silicon Valley tech companies like Apple and Google share a reputation for being focused on the young and a young worker’s paradise. Apparently, however, either Apple or Google may not be ideal if you’re over 40.
Let’s have it all – a good product, an aware vendor, a great employer. It costs companies like Google and Apple little to sound friendlier to older product users, beyond their media and messages of today. Place an older adult in an ad here, hire for a store there, add a bit of a SEO wizardry, and voilà, your tech is senior-friendly! Oh, and actually including friendly features (touch adjustment, voice enablement, font size, icon size etc.) would be icing on the cake. If there are 100 million aged 50+ consumers out there with at least several trillion dollars of possible spend, according to AARP, why NOT lightly market to them? Follow the lead of retailers like CVS – they see an age wave ahead and they actually have modified both the store and the goods inside. Waste not those available market dollars: trustworthy, user-friendly, age friendly, accessible – now there is a continuum of capability, for a person and a product.