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Looking back: What happened with those tech predictions?

Let’s reflect on the market of tech for older adults. In December, 2011, a number of assertions were made about the future – as we move forward, let’s look back and examine if these predictions came to pass, or if they were more fantasy and hope.Those predictions opined that mobile devices would become more important and cut into the house-bound tech market. And tablets and smart phones are transforming multiple tech markets that impact seniors and their families – including apps and senior-specialized PCs, feature phones, and even game consoles like the Wii.  Consider the specifics:

PERS – the little button morphs into mobile (2011). And so it did – including GPS location, two-way voice, pre-paid talk time and even restaurant reservations. No one knows for sure what percent of the overall market finds this solution to be the optimal choice – and if the vendors know, they aren’t saying.  But the number and variety of vendors/services that entered since then -- including Great Call’s 5Star Responder, Numera Libris, Verizon SureResponse, Philips GoSafe -- says that the homebound 82-year-old woman target market may have morphed into a market segment of a similar or slightly younger age, but one that gets out more – and also benefits from navigational services, restaurant reservations, and health-related  telephone services.

In-home remote monitoring – gave way to a ‘disconnect and go’ tablet world.  The sensor-based remote monitoring market has languished – yet tablets have a long way to go to serve the age 65+ demographic, only 18% of whom have tablets.  While there are stalwarts  remaining in the home-based sensor monitoring space, such as BeClose and CareInnovations Quiet Care, home monitoring tablet variants are offered as well – GrandCare and Independa – and  new entrants like Lively and a tablet-based ‘senior companion’ startup tablet-enabled service, GeriJoy, joined them. Meanwhile…

Telehealth lost its oomph as a market – mHealth replaced it.  Supercharged by the ubiquity of smart phones and tablets, it is true that telehealth device may still be available and doctor-prescribed. Aimed at a younger market, what was telehealth and telemedicine a few years ago is reincarnated as wearable, wellness focused, and all things mobile – Nike Fuel, Fitbit and Jawbone -- and portable, blood pressure cuff, oxygen sensors, and diabetes monitoring and care. And tablet apps are now available for consumers in nearly every category of health and wellness, some even sanctioned and reviewed by the payer – as with the VA and its iPad caregiver apps.

Talking devices an touch screens ate the PC and feature phone.  With Siri's personal charm, the iPhone combined with talking turn-by-turn directions on Android phones have raised the bar for voice interfaces – and thus killed off the standalone GPS market.  And while Microsoft gets most of the blame for killing the PC market with its unhappy launch of Windows 8, as an appropriate device for tech-novice older adults, PCs were a lose-lose proposition. They are tough to maintain, not exactly portable and still require an administrator to ensure that security patches are applied. The locked-down nature of the tablet and smart phone turned out to be just what the doctor (with a very high penetration of tablet and smart phone use) and we really wanted. Ironically a few other markets will also go away – the video game industry is being replaced by downloadable games run on tablets and smart phones.  

You want apps – you got them. And speaking of caregiving apps – there was little to speak about in 2011. Ah, but ask and ye shall receive – now there are thousands. Soon a shakeout of mediocrity will sweep the majority away. Other organizations will follow the VA lead, pick through the hordes and recommend specific ones for their constituents. Maybe that will even happen in the technology-bereft worlds of aging services, private duty home care and all levels of senior housing (IL, AL and SNF). Although history shows that unless there is a mandate or until consumer families insist on accessing information online, whether through portals, apps that connect to portals, or access to electronic health status of care recipients, expect no voluntary change.