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What iPad means for boomer and senior markets
Looking back to January -- the spectacular iPad success confounds skeptics. It is always entertaining to look back at product reviewers and skeptic comments from way back, that is, end of January 2010, when the iPad launched and howls of pundit dismay -- even the WSJ's resident Apple swooner Walter Mossberg had reservations!!! -- were heard across the land. I particularly enjoy a re-read of this nasty CNET review that declared it to be a big disappointment. However, he and others at the time thought it might appeal to baby boomers. Of course, Apple will not tell anyone the age mix of buyers. But since baby boomers generally aren't divided into sub-segments, and the overall segment spends more money than various other generations, that wasn't tough.
Today, those skeptics seem a bit quaint... In fact, tech industry bigwig racket has reached near-hysteria levels -- the SAP executive excitement is particularly amusing, given their long Microsoft partnership. By mid-April, it was possible to imagine the iPad as exceeding boomer expectations (Coughlin, MIT). At least 1 million had sold by early May (when the 3G version hit the market), according to Apple.* While 44% of those buyers were already Apple customers, the rest just had to have it. I still don't have and don't need an iPad, but I find much about it very instructive.
So watch and learn about mythical upper age limits. This video from a blog comment really got my attention: watch this 99-year-old woman as she is shown the iPad and how to read a book on it. Do you think she cares about its limitations? But would she have learned about it if someone hadn't shown it to her and how to use it? Do you think she cares whether it is called a computer, a tablet, or a giant iPhone? She crossed a 'digital divide' without a look up at the camera or theorizing about the significance of what she was doing.
Can you make a product easier to consume and use than the iPad? After watching the video, I spent a few minutes online on the Apple Store website (by searching for 'Apple, iPad, buy'). The site is a marketing marvel in many ways, selling and explaining, explaining and selling -- forgetting all of the hype out there, it's pretty easy for a relative novice to buy online. A small quibble, footnoting that "1GB = 1 billion bytes; actual formatted capacity less" is not nearly as useful as translating what it might be in book storage, i.e. thousands of books. And using it to read a book or a newspaper or send and receive an e-mail, or maybe view a photo or listen to some music, the site (and the product) make it easy, especially if you sign up for that AT&T data plan from the iPad main screen. And let's not forget the 90 days of free telephone support and the Apple Genius stores with experts to answer questions.
Can you make a product harder to own than a PC? I love my little Acer Blue Netbook, as brightly lit as any iPad, which I bought by trying it out in an OfficeMax store. But get training on its use? Buy it online? From whom? Not from the Acer website. Not from OfficeMax -- after waiting many seconds for the home page to load, forget it. And then, of course, we have our pre-existing Internet service, 5 hours spent loading various Windows 7 recommended service packs, the latest browser download, software to enable Internet access through my BlackBerry, and the download of the free Kindle PC reader. So it wasn't love at first use, not by a long shot.
Easy to describe, consume, use, get help. That's it: the iPad lesson is simple to derive, hard to follow. The 99-year-old on the video is proof that at any age, if someone is shown a product that is easy to use, why not give it a try ? But a question stumped me during the ASA webinar I spoke on this past week -- as I described categories and products, someone typed in a simple one-liner question: what's all this technology cost? Not so helpfully, I mumbled (quickly) that products range in price from $5-8/month per user for ease-of-use PC software up to $8000 for a home monitoring and communication system.
Like the iPad user interface, this market needs clarity. In fact, price is not well communicated on most websites of vendors who target boomers and seniors, and if it were known, we would see that pricing is all over the spectrum. There is no widely known, reputable organization providing telephone support for computers and networks. No one website offers multiple products from multiple categories spanning multiple decades from age 50+. In fact, most of the products in today's markets have overly complicated user interfaces or they suffer from obfuscating websites. Or they explain what the product does but not where it can be bought.
A massive generalization, true. But if it reminds you of a vendor you know (even Microsoft, HP, or Dell), the iPad lesson could be internalized and even accommodated.
* As of June 1, Apple now claims that 2 million have been sold within a 2-month period.