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Are the Mi-Look phone's functions for our future -- or now?

The Japanese offer us a device-eye lens into US in 2030... or maybe today.  Heads up. See what $255 buys today in Japan for monitoring and communicating with an aging parent. The Mi-Look phone, recently announced by Kyocera, helps us look into our tech future, circa 2030, when a relatively niche US market will have grown to become a mainstream expectation. By that date, the age 65+ population will have reached the current Japanese percentage of approximately 22 percent. There will be nearly 52 million people 70 and older in the US, well over the current target population for the Mi-Look phone, which represents a 12 million current senior market size in Japan. So at that point, there should be quite a bit of demand for cleverness. Mainstream vendors will trip over themselves to offer high function/low price tech anyone could use without training and away from the home. But hey, what do you know, given the prospective market size of 12 million aged 70+ that Kyocera has identified in Japan -- wouldn't you know that there are already 27 million in the US today who are age 70+.

Is Mi-Look more than just intriguing for a senior market?  Maybe, maybe not – it reminds me of those 1970s Ginsu knife commercials in which the product seems to double as a food chopper, a can opener – but wait, there's more! – it’s also a floor wax! So check out the Mi-Look, hold your breath, here goes: it's is a simple cell phone, a pedometer, a GPS device (for tracking and communicating your whereabouts), a motion sensor that can detect non-movement, a PERS device with a pull cord to notify caregivers or even the police. That’s quite a bit of functionality packed into a $255 device, no contract required. Although Kyocera left out a few things – fall detection, walking turn-by-turn spoken navigation, a camera and Skype – all of which can be found in today’s smartphone. Don’t they have them in Japan?  Probably not there or anywhere among older adults – in the US only 11% of the 65+, according to Pew’s last report. The under-adoption may be due to current difficulty in using the device (small buttons, skinny viewing area, weird keyboards, touchy screens) and may be due to underwhelming marketing to older adults by carriers. Or both.

But no services as part of the offer – that makes no sense.  The Japanese never give up on gadgets and gizmos (and robots and remote controls). And certainly the functionality of the Mi-Look should, in fact make its way into a viable phone in the US market. We will see carriers add the remaining functionality of a smart phone – and tie in the services – robust, senior-aware call centers of all types, including nurses. For example, check out GreatCall’s LiveNurse, 5Star Urgent Response, and MedCoach on the iPhone.  Other senior phone services in the US – like Consumer Cellular (an AARP brand), and Doro are services that have many US partnerships, but to my knowledge, have not yet stepped up health-related services as I believe they must. To me, a cool multi-function, low-priced gadget integrated with age-aware services that make seniors safer, more connected with family and caregivers, out and about as well as near-home, that's what we need. Hopefully well before 2030. 

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Thank you for sharing this new effort by Kyocera to market an elderly specific phone. I am always challenged by the desire of engineers to dumb-down something for seniors. When the iPhone first came out, I asked the CEO of Jitterbug if they would be moving to a touch screen and adding the opportunity to expand the functionality with widgets or apps. She said they were sticking with a single line display. I thought that was a mistake.

Anyone using a new device can benefit from well-designed training. The design and ease of use of the iPhone and to a lesser extent other touchscreen phones has improved so dramatically that teaching someone to use the device completely, can be done in 20 to 25 minutes. Not just a few key functions, but everything. We demonstrated this with older devices in 2005 and with the iPhone in 2010.

What I would like to see is better training and training tools available from distributors so that seniors and those that care for them can give them access to all the functionality of these devices. Then the apps can be the conduit for the support required to live independently longer.


Anthony Sterns PhD
CEO, iRx Reminder LLC
Akron, OH

I appreciated the article on the Kyocera phone - Japan has been focused on serving its seniors and creating specific "gadgets" for them for many years now. I have long believed that serving the senior population in the United States in not a "gadget" opportunity but a "service" opportunity and that was taught directly to me by Arlene Harris, the founder of GreatCall/Jitterbug, and who I had the pleasure to work with for over 15 years. The Jitterbug cellular phone was designed to offer simplicity with complex services to be provided on the back-end seamlessly to the end user. It appears that GreatCall/Jitterbug is still following her unique vision.

Anthony's comment on the training portion is indeed true and many individuals just need to have someone help them get comfortable with the technology. That's why part of Nurture Connect's model includes product demonstrations and education. There are, however people, who would prefer not to bother to learn new technology and for those we need simple devices where the complexity is hidden in the back.

Shana Duthie
CEO,Nurture Connect,Inc.
Connecting People&Technology

The functionality looks pretty limited. I was expecting something that had greater functionality such monitoring vital signs and possibly monitor caloric intake or at least if the refrigerator door was opened. Japan is certainly further a...long the demographic curve than the U.S. and clearly they are first adaptors of technology to support aging in place. The sociological aspects in Japan are interesting but thinking what will be available in 2030 is pretty tough.


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