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AARP charts Tech Adoption among older adults -- what does it mean?

What’s happening with older adults and tech adoption?  Not much. Let’s take a look at the AARP 2016 Technology Trends Among Mid-Life and Older Americans. Hint, the report focused most of its analysis on boomers and below. So that leaves the rest of us to look more closely at what they found about older ages, since it seems that this is the most recent set of material on this topic.  From Page 10: “Adults age 70+ are the least likely to have adopted any device.”  And on Page 12: only 29% of those aged 70+ own a smartphone – and of non-owners in that age group, only 4% plan to buy one in the coming (2017) year.

Consider the loss for older adults. Look at Page 16 -- where the report analysis notes that "a sizable chunk of adults aged 70 and older may be underutilizing their devices, even if they already own them."  On Page 23: Email and text still dominate ways to be connected, with limited growth in either for adults aged 70+.  Last but not least at all, asked how well privacy is protected on their devices, only 20% of those surveyed are confident that it is.

So let’s consider the problem that all of this presents.  Good that AARP did the survey, since Pew seems to have little interest any more in this topic outside of an annual query.  Perhaps they perceive that adoption in the upper ages is complete – there’s nothing more to be done. The last Fact Sheet published noted that 42% of the 65+ has a smartphone.  But as you will see in the AARP survey, usage must be skewing at the younger end of 65+. 

Nothing in either survey asks probing questions. What aspect of the smartphone, assuming you own one, do you a) find baffling, b) avoid c) actually benefit from?   What percentage of age 70+ users actually deploy turn-by-turn directions and through what device?  What percent of adults age 70+ drive? The number was 22 million as of 2008 (obviously not a favorite survey topic), representing 78% of that demographic.  Let’s assume that 78% of people aged 70+ today are actually driving.  However, it would appear that the majority of those drivers are not using smartphones for turn-by-turn directions.

What’s missing in smartphones, besides a great deal -- in every sense?  First consider that $869 iPhone 7 ($36.20/month) or that $700 Galaxy S7. Okay, then add a carrier plan for $60-70/month for an ‘unlimited’ data plan.  Okay, now let’s move past price.  Then there’s the training requirement.  No, how to use them does not leap off the phone – and no, they’re not intuitive unless you’ve already had one.  And no, having grandchildren demonstrate usage does not make them intuitive after they leave.

What do smartphones need that the standard products do not provide?  Better keyboards, accessibility options converted to standard options, visible on settings, quick training sessions available by topic -- "Quick Help on Keyboard" or "Quick Help GPS" or any other main menu type tools.  Imagine well-articulated tech support partnerships that are invoked at device purchase time - that would be refreshing. (While we weren’t looking, AARP TEK added quite a bit about job training to its online university in addition to their Tablets & Smartphones tab.) Let's consider how the first-time user experience could improve? For example: "If you have not had an iOS or Android device before, would you like a 1-minute get-started video?" "Would you like to arrange come into a store for a training session?" Without transitions enabling a comfort level with a smartphone, no wonder most of those aged 70+ have no interest. As a result, non-users miss out on smartphone resources that are so helpful in improving quality of life (turn-by-turn directions, social networks, music, restaurants, healthcare information, airlines, Uber/Lyft, theater tickets, home shopping and meal delivery, for starters). Not to mention that smartphones are another tool for mitigating the impact of social isolation

[Part of the Technology and AARP Series]


Excellent. We also need to investigate if smartphone use drops precipitously at the onset of cognitive impairment due to the cognitive demands of the user interface.

Well, as a pre-boomer who uses a lot of tech I have finally been able to come out in the higher percentile.  I guess it just goes to show just hanging around can work out.


What great spot-on analysis, Laurie. Thanks for writing what so many of us see on a daily basis.

This is an interesting article. Did anyone factor in eyesight into the equation? Often, older adults have trouble seeing smaller print. I agree...cost and affordability is a huge factor. They have taken to the larger tablets it seems


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