Five Market Overview versions later -- let's recap. Launching a business venture takes excessive confidence -- or an extreme lack of common sense. Four years ago, after 7 months of random ranting in a blog, an awkwardly-titled Aging in Place Technology Watch analyst business was launched at the 2009 What’s Next Boomer Business Summit. Both of those were in conjunction with posting and promoting an initial report -- Technology for Aging in Place Market Overview (2009). Now more than four years later, an updated version has been posted on this site. The press release titled "The Longevity Economy Goes Mobile" is ready -- and so there's time for a bit of reflection. Since 2009, how much has changed: the environment in which technologies are discovered and utilized is radically different. Entrenched social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn et al. make it different; the rise of smart phones and tablets as platforms, so different; and the rise and fall and rise of crowd-funding make starting up a company very different; boatloads of blog sites offering a cacaphony of tidbits also makes learning about new technology difficult -- and different.
For a while, the traditions of the tech industry were extended to the tech market for older adults. In 2009, a Silicon Valley-style process was clear. Products were created through an expensive and lengthy proposition. Teams of like-minded people would form, ideas would emerge, a pitch would be created, funding sought, and much optimistic hiring would consume the first round of VC or angel funding. Pre-announcements were made, the product was put into limited testing, a beta test would be conducted with a broader audience, speeches and press releases were drafted, a launch event would be funded and cute T-shirts designed. The unveiling would ideally be held at a big trade show like CES – companies would last through their several funding cycles and then most would disappear or be re-incarnated into other companies or identities. For the early years of the tiny senior-focused tech industry, this pattern was carefully imitated, but success for this approach was very limited. In fact the market of buyers for this technology as initially described was very limited. For two examples of T-Shirt-and-splash launches see QuietCare, WellCore or WellAware and many others who know who they are. Money spent, remaining assets sold. (Note to wannabe selves – fame is fleeting but press releases are forever.)
But with the new process – as barriers to visibility disappear, so goes staying power. Creating hardware still takes time. But oh, for software, it seems to be a new ballgame. Today’s Kickstarter-get-it-into-iTunes-and-Google-Play-Store process has resulted in an enormous and unvetted bazaar of shouts and murmurs. Developers whose ring tone and white noise apps don’t take off lose interest – they delete their phone numbers from websites and move on -- sometimes without deleting the site. Today, truly anyone can be a software developer. Gazillions of software amateurs (including doctors with still-running practices) are bursting with app ideas, but the the noise-to-signal ratio is alarming for those of you sorting and searching online. The rise and fall of an app (see Pocket Health and Cognovant) within a two-year period or less may be the new normal, thus short-circuiting the T-shirt-to-Trade-Show cycle. This cycle brevity makes the jobs of distributors, retailers, service professionals and consumers more difficult and for consumers, finding what is useful and even still in business is more difficult today.
Aging services professional organizations, please lead. Start vetting apps -- if not you, then who? It’s great that there are tech pavilions at the big aging-services shows like ALFA, ASA, Leading Age, and AARP. It's great that they accept paid exhibitors – but for all of the membership fees paid to the parent hosting organizations, it is unacceptable that none of them play a role of vetting technology on behalf of their members. An article here or a blog post there doesn't cut it. A clearinghouse list does not constitute vetting. The immature management processes of the iTunes and Google Play Stores do not constitute vetting. Members of these organizations must insist on published criteria for admission of exhibitors -- but that's not enough. Using a portion of dues and fees to pay for the review/testing of apps should be expected -- and using membership funds to pay for these monitors of app obsolescence would really help membership constituent boomers, seniors, and family caregivers. Most of all, monitoring the apps market would help guide the army of professionals in aging-related services who are risk-averse and perhaps a bit tech-phobic. If members demand app market vetting and oversight, it will become part of serving those members. So go forth, members, and demand.