This is a rant. I am tired of youth-oriented tech vendors with their back-to-school laptops. I am tired of how clumsy and non-intuitive most computing technologies are -- especially home networks. I am convinced that vendors like Apple, Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, and Microsoft must be populated with thirty-somethings who design products for themselves and their inner geek. (Gee, why have a device that can be plugged in and just works? Instead, why don't we just add these 14 configuration steps?). So it has always been thus and so perhaps will always be. But with so many boomers who insist on staying put in their homes and who have more disposable income (even accounting for the recession assault on their portfolios) why not make and market home technology for them?
People will age longer at home, but it won't be pretty. This year we know according to an AARP public policy study, that 89% of people of age 50+ want to stay in their own homes. MetLife Mature Market Institute found the same thing. News article after article has confirmed that aging in place is a trend that is happening, maybe fueled by a real estate slump. Remodeling of Peter Pan houses is taking off. Meanwhile, January 1, 2011, the first wave of baby boomers turns 65. Despite our never-get-old mentality (60 is the new 40, 80 is the new 60, etc), when you're not 64 anymore, you slip into a new and not entirely problem-free life stage.
The post boomer demographic is becoming senior. That's the age in which the majority will have 2 chronic conditions -- perhaps arthritis, diabetes or heightened risk of heart disease. It's the demographic in which risk of Alzheimer's disease spikes (1 in 8 are likely to acquire, putting the total for baby boomers who suffer from it or a related dementia at 10 million, or twice the current population with Alzheimer's of 5.2 million). It's likely that 4.3 million of us (you) will have severe vision impairment. Bad knees, weak hips, poor balance, shaky memory, and fading eyesight.
What technology you need. Let's just make a few assumptions. Just to chat with your dispersed family members, never mind research your looming medical issues on the Internet, you need broadband, a home network, a reasonably lightweight laptop, a printer, maybe a touch screen, maybe a built in camera, a decent cell phone with built-in GPS, a low-cost but high function home security system that watches out for your environment, and a good long-distance dialing plan. You are quite willing to plug everything in and turn it on, or maybe hire someone to show up and do it. As you become somewhat frailer, you want a small amount of home automation that doesn't require an engineer to manage -- perhaps automatic temperature controls (you're in, heat's on, along with the lights; please reverse this when you're out.) Eventually you and your family want home monitoring with integrated web camera, motion and fall detection, plus extended PERS (beyond 500 feet).
How about some help from your favorite vendors? Unfortunately, once you own all of the above, from that point on, if it's computer-related, it's all about fear and loathing of this ever-more-frustrating junk-to-be. From the 'Send error report to Microsoft' to the gotta-hire-a-geek-just-to-print. The silence is deafening from large US-based vendors on how to tackle this pending incompatibility between what we want and how we live with our gear. The super successful Cisco offers only networking products that confound both novice and technical people in their homes. Microsoft is committed to health care, but it's Guide for Aging Computer Users hasn't been updated in a year and a half -- and there is no other public clue that the company cares about its aging-in-place customers. Meanwhile, Intel cares about aging enough to fund virtual boatloads of research -- but actual product development into the market -- basically zero. Silence from HP and Dell. Maybe that's because only 25% of Windows-based laptop purchasers are over age 50? But 25% is still quite a few laptops, more than 5 million, for example, in 2007 alone).
And a word about Apple. So we know that Apple's personal computer marketshare has grown to exceed 10%. And surprisingly, 46% of its buyers are 55 and older (which could possibly be because it's perceived to be easy to use...but I digress.) Yet Apple's marketing. Now there's a contrast. Baby boomers? Seniors? Aging? Not on your stylish pink MacBook life. How silly is it to ignore nearly half of your buyers and design for appeal to teenagers? Do they think that their 55+ customers just want to look cool? Maybe if they acknowledged the AARP demographic, they could grab another 10% share.
Big vendors should invest in small vendors. This blog is filled with numerous mentions of vendors who offer all of the pieces and parts that we'll need to age in our own homes. But they're mostly small. With an infusion of cash (not research... cash!) from the large vendors (like Cisco, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Intel, Apple) -- the small vendors could be intentionally included as members of the large vendor's 'ecosystem' (to quote Microsoft). One reason Microsoft invests in HealthVault is because its leaders acknowledge the health-related implications of an aging population. Ditto with Intel (Health Guide) and Cisco (Health Presence). But we're not going to be sick all of the time! We're just going to try to live in our homes as connected to others as we can be. Maybe we just need a few investments in the innovations of small startups to ensure that we can.