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Whither the Senior PC?
Were senior PCs reviewed in a column of the Wall Street Journal? Sort of. Last week, Walt Mossberg wrote about the Telikin PC for Seniors, which was unusual. The tech columnist-turned-Apple enthusiast for the Wall Street Journal periodically writes about other new tech (between Apple product announcements). The Telikin, first launched at the October 2010 AARP Convention, is not exactly new. Bet from reading the Journal, you didn’t know that the average aged WSJ newspaper print subscriber is a 57-year-old baby boomer with an average income of $191K. Also note that half of all baby boomers have one living parent. So tech for seniors should be of interest to baby boomer Journal readers, as well as the affluent NY Times readers, who spend more than $800/year just to read the newspaper in print. Both groups still have parents, both groups can afford to buy them a device currently on the market if they’re willing. But since only 42% of the 65+ population are online, that still leaves a mere 14.8 million people 65+ with online access to nothing.
Senior-friendly technology -- first hardware then software. A few years ago Microsoft and HP tried to launch a Senior PC which can still be found online, but at $1200 went nowhere. Then in June, 2009, FirstSTREET launched the GO Computer – a thin client/cloud-based software offering from MyGait (at $899); today they are promoting the Telikin which starts at $699. Pretty soon a small slew of vendors surfaced with software to make the PC tolerable to older adults: InTouchlink, PointerWare (both Toronto-based) and ConnectedLiving, VitalLink.net, and others. What they all have in common? Low-priced subscription (or free) consumer software that can run on any PC, ideally for the vendor, benefiting from large licensing deals with senior housing organizations.
But the senior tech and software installation times – they’re a-changing. Cloud-based software has already changed the landscape of every type of software – you have only to watch the transformation of video games. Add the introduction of touch-screen tablets and smart (or less dumb) phones – and now you have Angry Birds on steroids, multi-device movie rentals, emergency response systems on smart phones, spoken turn-by-turn navigation without a dedicated GPS device, and…poof, not only do have hardware platforms turned into software, what was installable will be web-based, what was web-based will be mobile and at some point useful content will be presented on a TV. What was a complex and difficult user interface that begged for a simplified front end will increasingly become usable by all ages. Senior-oriented technology at that point will be limited to the interfacing assistive devices and highly specialized software -- for a good current sample, see a list of members of AgeTek.org and note that Telikin is the only PC among a long list of products and services.
Even IBM thinks the PC's days are numbered. Steve Jobs and others have been declaring the death of the PC for a while now -- and recently an IBM pundit pondered the same point. Or maybe not -- perhaps tablets are a short-term fad, says the founder of Acer. New versions of software for both will render both viewpoints incorrect. But for now, Telikin still fits into the niche of making the annoyingly complex and still-difficult-to-use PC tolerable and more engaging, augmenting the still-not-quite-functional tablet – and undoubtedly increasing the number of older adults who are online next year -- likely bumping the Pew Research 2011 numbers upward.