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Mobile devices and data everywhere, not a drop of information to drink

The mobile device projections are in – and they’re big, REALLY big.  This may just be bigger than the recent and trendy thoughts on the Internet of Things (which was observed by Forrester 11 years ago), and reminds one that it is tough to keep a good phrase down.  So let’s look at three mobile device examples, in descending order of the date predictions they specify, and as described in news articles:

  • By 2017, 170 million wearable devices, says ABI Research.  "Over the next five years, the total market for wearable wireless devices in sports and healthcare will grow to 169.5 million devices in 2017, up from 20.77 million in 2011, a CAGR of 41%. Strong growth will also take place within home monitoring applications for assisted living, remote patient care to help manage chronic conditions, and within hospitals and clinics."

  • By 2016, one billion smart phones, says Forrester Research. "One billion consumers will have smartphones, according to the research firm. In the US alone, consumers will own 257 million smartphones and 126 million tablets. By 2015, the total amount consumers and businesses spend on mobile devices, software and services related to the mobile ecosystem will be an astonishing $1.3 trillion — and mobile apps alone will account for $55 billion, according to Forrester. And it turns out that the 'app economy' has already created 500,000 jobs in the US, according to economist Michael Mandel.

  • By 2012, 13,000 consumer health iPhone apps, says Mobile Health News. The web research firm predicts that number will be up from 9,000 by the end of this year, describing these as "health, fitness and/or medical-related. Last February the average paid health app cost $2.77. As of July 2011 the average cost of a paid consumer health app was $3.21." In the top 10 -- not counting Health and Fitness Magazine and two formats of WebMD -- there are three apps for dieting, two for jogging, a symptom checker, a white noise generator, a sleep cycle alarm clock app, and the first of many apps to track fertility, pregnancy, and, er, let's just say, precursor process steps.

There is an organizing principle, but organization has yet to emerge.  The above is a hierarchy, although Maslow would probably say we haven’t satisfied too many needs. At the bottom of this stack, we have the Internet of things talking to each other and transmitting a sea of data – like when a bus will arrive, whether a water main has broken, where a physical asset is located. (Hopefully someone is noticing on their smart phone). Up a layer, there are wearable devices for tracking aspects of our individual lives. Uo a layer from that, there is the ubiquitous smart phone, although still only penetrating 11% of the 65+ according to Pew. Given the available apps, that is probably for the best. Smart phones could potentially display some info from the wearable devices, though not necessarily. Up from that finally, are the consumer health smart phone apps, which seem, perhaps appropriately at this point, not terribly smart and extremely self-oriented.

So much money to be spent, so little value for older adults. Skepticism on. If you believe that within 5 years there will be significant spending on wearable home monitoring applications for assisted living, you are what some might call a tech optimist. That industry is barely moving access to the Internet out of the common areas, and with an average resident age of 86, seems unlikely to hurry towards wearable monitoring – unless, of course, ABI was counting PERS and elopement-prevention tech, both of which have been around for more than a decade. If you believe that smart phone ownership among the older adult population will grow enough in the near term to invite many senior-focused app developers at $3.21 per app download, well then, you are a visionary. Or just having visions.


We are still seeing way too many apps and devices targeted to an older population who can't readily learn to use them. Although this may change in the next few years as 80-somethings become more tech-savvy, the current population of elders simply doesn't have the level of familiarity with technology to use today's complicated alarm clocks, let alone smartphones. Combine that lack of basic know-how with limited ability to remember and learn due to memory impairment, and it's easy to see why so many new gadgets have limited usefulness with the people they are designed to serve.

We suspect a root cause of this problem is the involvement of too many MBA's and tech entrepreneurs who have never experienced caregiving for an elder with limited memory and don't yet have an appreciation for how very difficult their devices will be to learn.

On a positive note, the growing level of tech sophistication among boomers should serve them well years from now as their ability to learn diminishes. All of us boomers should be expanding our knowledge of, and comfort with, technologies that will support us at an older age. We live in a marvelous age - if we seize the opportunities it presents!

Laurie, I think your report, Connected Living For Social Aging: Designing Technology For All, really should be required reading for anyone in this market. I have spent a great deal of time helping small businesses use technology as a tool. It's the use (ease of use) not the technology and in order to succeed that really needs to be on the minds of the vendors.

Alan Gorman


You are right on Laurie, when it comes to older persons seeing the need to purchase apps. They do not see the value because they have low tech or non tech work arounds in place or have not ever relied on a cell phone to be more than a telephone. Apps adoption is dependent on smart phone purchases and understanding of how to use. Leading edge boomers and older cohorts are not the early adopters!

I in discussions with my retired male friends (ages 57-75) about their technology use it seemed apparent that if they used computers in their careers they were more likely to use technology while retired. The most commonly used features were email, Skype and Google. They liked the ability to communicate with their children, grandchildren and friends. While a few of us had smart phones and tablets the majority used flip phones and a laptop. A universal feature of email everyone appreciated was emailing their PCP and filling their prescriptions on line. The digital camera was one piece of technology admired and used often by this group. When I mentioned apps such as Expedia and Kayak for the most part they were dismissed as unnecessary since they had laptops. A few friends have purchased FindMeSpot as a personal safety device.

My belief is that home monitoring applications will increase as part of the trend towards Aging in Place. However, the data will probably be transfered to family members or case workers rather than the expectation that it will be used by the person being monitored. At this point in time at least, it seems that most of the people in that target market are not tech savvy enough to be able to utilize the technology.