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Tech adoption grows for older adults -- why?

In 2019, Tech adoption changes -- some.  It’s known as the Amazon effect. As brick-and-mortar based businesses dwindle in favor of online, access to smartphone and broadband are becoming the enablers of information flow to older adults.  Pew Research helps us understand who, what, and possibly why people buy and own technology. Non-users, particularly broadband, are thus on one side of the so-called digital divide.  The latest Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2019 report reveals a change in the role of smartphones, particularly as a sole device for connecting to the Internet – 37% of responders to this year’s survey go online primarily using a smartphone, with 58% of 18-29-year-olds saying they mostly go online that way, though that number dropped to 15% for the 65+.   

  • Smartphone adoption moves up for the oldest.  According to the commentary in the Pew report, while 59% of the 65-75 are smartphone owners, the new number was 40% for the 75+, which had an ownership rate of 31% (age 75-79), last surveyed in 2017, when 17% of the 80+ had them.  Though the influences of education and income factors for the 75+ were not included, assumptions are straightforward – higher income and education drive up adoption.   No kidding, given how high smartphone prices have become – and how they got all the way to $2000. And those prices do not include a monthly data plan.
  • Speculating on why smartphone adoption for older adults is up?  According to this Verizon store display, there are 6 flip phones left in the menu.  AT&T also has six (at the bottom of the phone selections).  A new marketing ploy for flip phones – avoid notification overload – seems aimed at the inundated Facebook, Twitter recipients – and suggests having a flip phone in addition to a smartphone.  But anyway, with few flip phones to buy any more, it is no surprise that older adult smartphone adoption has grown.
  • Home broadband – that enabler of streaming – is also up to 59% of the 65+.  Broadband adoption, not surprising given the average cost, ironically in a country were 145 million people do not have access to a low-priced plan. At a nationwide average of $60/month, 44% of lower income responders do not have home broadband. For the 41% of the 65+ that do not, likely price was a factor.

What’s does growing adoption mean in practice? Perhaps wireless broadband in public places like restaurants has become so good, that bringing your own device is enough for many who do not have broadband at home.  For others, perhaps they have it at work or at the home of a family member.  As smartphone prices have climbed at the high end, upgrade intervals are approaching 3 years and leaving phone-centric companies like Apple talking up services as the replacement revenue stream for a 30% recent drop in iPhone sales (8% drop for Samsung). But other factors could be at play as well for seniors – well-publicized online scams and fraud, well-publicized surveys that show older adults as sharers of fake news, and the need for better training for users trying to protect their identity and privacy.


Smartphones are great solutions for older adults and everyone of them need to have a phone, and text messaging ability. Rather than load their Smartphone up with apps it makes more sense to use EZGUI and keep it simple. 

The adoption trends have been inching upwards for this demographic now looks like getting more traction. Great. Experience designers for this demographic are key, I see a shift in the timing of that expense for startups in this space as it’s a make or break.

Could be another example of the technology adoption lifecycle in action...?  Originally applied to innovations in farming, the 'late majority' and 'laggard' communities were typically more conservative (and older).

First of all, I owe you a thank you for putting a big smile (one of the few smiles), on my mother in law's face when she was in an ALF in her 85th year. She was totally bedridden with arthritis. All she could do was watch TV, for the most part. And her hands were incapable of using a regular remote. So she had to pull her attendant cord every time she wanted to turn it on or off, or change channels. You wrote about the Flipper, a remote with only six buttons. I got her that, programmed it for the few channels she watched. She smiled broadly because that became one thing that she could control.

Her progression into helplessness is also relevant to your comments about the low incidence of computer use among the oldest demos. She was very active in the use of computers in her 70's. She spent a good amount of her time communicating with a group of friends. But then, her capabilities made it impossible. Voice Activation might have solved the problem to some extent, and she had very computer literate grandchildren, but this was the early 2000's and it was not that well developed at that time. I bring up this point because you and others comment about the low incidence of computer ownership by that demo group. One of the groups that do these surveys should ask a question about whether they previously owned a computer.

I have to agree, but them I am biased (Wellbeing Monitor ). I often visit the local Apple stores during the daytime. There purchasing their new iPhones, iPads and Apple Watch’s and attending the training and educational classes is the Baby Boomer generation.


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