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Old Age, New Gizmos -- or Gizmos Are Dead, Long Live Services?

Rant on.  The Times New Old Age take on this weekend's Silvers Summit at CES: "American tech companies, taking notice of the unmistakable demographic trends, have launched a surge." Is Silvers Summit a surge? Are 'major tech companies' actively and broadly engaged? What you're seeing (as described and in CES press releases) is some innovation from small start ups -- and in an unproven market area, it is probably best thought of as experimentation.

The major tech companies are forming alliances here and there (GE, Intel), making a very few age-related products (again GE, Intel, Philips), or just talking about what they might do. And some are simply invested in health care as though it stands separate from engaged support of aging. In the heated-up world of health tech, too often an older person is a 'patient' -- not a family member or a person in their own right.  

And -- with analysis by CAST leader Majd Alwan: "Consumers should also expect products to evolve. “The obsolescence is inevitable,” Dr. Alwan said. “There’s always something better, cheaper, faster. Look at your cellphone. A device purchased today has a likely life cycle of three to five years, he said."

The last thing an older person needs is a gadget or gizmo that will be obsolete in three to five years (Wellcore, which hasn't even started shipping yet, is mentioned in the middle of his comment -- hard to say if he was including them or Paula Span, the Times columnist, threw them in). But at any rate -- instead of a gizmo-oriented junk heap to be, how about an upgradable service that will swap out the old device, or heavily discount its trade-in for a new version (think 'new every two' for cell phones)?

The new version will offer integration to other services that are relevant, some of which are on the Web -- which has a steeply growing population of older users.  And it's not an accident that Verizon and AT&T offer 'quad-play' (last year's triple play) plans that discount a combination of 4 different services to consumers who need all four -- phone, Internet, TV, cell). The aging-related technology/services industry has a long way to go before a single large vendor offers multiple capabilities that could be sold as a discounted bundle -- let alone even work together and share information.

As products prove their usefulness, perhaps they will be swept into larger portfolios of multiple products/services -- like Philips -- that could ultimately be combined into 'quad play' service bundles.

Rant off.

* Note a version of this post was left as a comment on the Times article.

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The PERS industry (personal emergency response service) has not witnessed much obsolescence within the past 15-20 years. Most of the first generation PERS products of today have about the same features and capabilities as those that were marketed in the early 90’s.

With the new technologically advanced senior safety products being introduced today, the driving motivation behind their adoption among seniors is improved monitoring effectiveness, peace of mind, independence and caregiver-senior connectivity that has not existed before.

Cellphones are probably not the best comparables regarding obsolescence. Unlike cellphones, we suspect that the craving to have a “cool new gadget” will be less of a factor behind the obsolescence of emerging senior safety devices than compelling and useful features that emerge which provide real value and address real needs of seniors.