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Market Overview for Technology for Aging in Place

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Tech firms giveth to innovation for seniors – and taketh away

Sometimes the biggest firms lose interest in older adults almost immediately.  That was Amazon 50+. And some, like Apple, never get started, despite interest from their supporters or an integrator like IBM.  Others might get started thinking about a good idea – but within a year or so, executives hold a meeting and one of them says – 'What? What? When did we start to focus on older adults?' How is that a growth proposition, especially for the oldest old?  And so the companies get started, move a bit and/or cancel the effort altogether. Or like Google, they focus on the really far-end of the aging continuum – solving death.

Five Technology Innovations for Older Adults -- August, 2016

Innovation from companies that have been there, done that.  It's intriguing to observe companies that have been in business for a while.  Sometimes there is a redirect into a new space or channel (see Philips and its direct-to-consumer approach) and sometimes innovation arrives that may augment an existing portfolio.  The market of technology and services for older adults continues to expand (see a near-hysterical Huffington Post article.)  So flipping around the cliché that 90% of all startup companies fail, wonder if there is another one -- 90% of all existing tech-related companies launch a tech or a service targeting seniors and caregivers within the next 5 years?  Here are five offerings - all text is from the company sites or press releases.

What is reality? Headlines distort information about aging and health

So you read a headline and say, what, what?? But of course we regularly find ourselves incredulous.  Can that headline be accurate? What did that study say? Who did they survey to get that result?  This has been a particularly bad week for distortion headlines – and not about politics, actually.  These are about topics seniors and families would care about and be disappointed when they read more.  Let’s start with the Wall Street Journal article title:

The state of technology for listening to music - it's complicated

Music makes the world go around.  We all know the importance of music – every type of device has a song and dance for accessing, storing and hearing it. Gadgets and apps for listening are everywhere, even as the world of hi fidelity speakers is diminished to ever-smaller and more remarkable sound reproduction.  In the 70’s MIT entrepreneurs founded Tech HiFi, which boomed into 80 stores and some fabulous catalogs before collapsing in the 1980s, along with nearly every other store, including the original not-online-140-character nonsense, the once-$750 million chain was actually called Tweeter. Okay, so all that is gone except for the gear bought by those aged 50+ -- including grand pianos and stereo equipment that the boomers and beyond may have left in their to-be-downsized homes.

Taking stock: watching the game watchers watching Pokémon Go

You may not have noticed people glued to their smartphones? People wandering around in the streets playing Pokémon Go?  Did I mention that there are at least 21 million people who have downloaded the app since July 11? Uh, make that 30 million, uh, make that... That those people are spending more time on this than Twitter or Facebook, apparently consuming less data than either? Crashing into police cars and walking off cliffs – and even killed. A good percentage (40%) are between 25-34 -- but 42,000 in that snapshot are over the age of 45. Apparently state department briefings are no match for the game. And the NY Times photo of throngs on Market a few days ago or today’s Friday night download by 10 million in Japan?

Innovation for the senior market from Israel

Entrepreneurs from Israel have found or been found by Aging 2.0. The mission of Aging 2.0 extends beyond the US: they are seeking innovators and inventions from everywhere, holding events, inviting pitches and announcing finalists. Last week, 12 entrepreneurs from Israel were written up in Jewish Business News – targeting 'technologies for the myriad needs of the aging population.' Five are included here. These have some unique attributes, but also inspire questions -- which may be the 2.0 issue of aging tech/tech-and-aging. Consider the five below. The target recipient of the technology is uncomfortable with technology, may have a physical limitation (hearing or dementia), and be at risk of social isolation. For each of these inventors, next is to identify the go-to-market partner category that will move these offerings into the homes of those who benefit at a beta-tested price point, combining with already familiar services targeting the broader needs of these individuals. These are very early-stage and all text comes from the original article:

Long ago, portable devices had keys -- and device users were customers

This text is touch-typed on a real keyboard.  The keyboard is attached to a computer, as is the display.  It is very functional. Compare that to a Very Smart Phone (VSP) with its soft keyboard and its microphone for dictating (Speak Now! Oops, too late -- Speak Now!).  So consider the description of one particular smartphone keyboard app, Smart Keyboard Pro: “It’s not bad if you need something simple that just works.”  Obviously some people expect/want something more. For them, there are a myriad of choices, including these iOS keyboard apps – how about that version 1.0.1 Google-provided iPhone keyboard app called Gboard?

Tech and aging marketplace: Did you miss these posts?

Do VCs matter in the older adult space? According to a Stanford Business School analysis, in today's economy VCs have become a 'dominant force' in the financing of innovative companies. This began, they note, with "a regulatory change in 1979 that permitted pension funds to invest in VC funds."  Okay, but do VCs really matter? Now switch coasts and perspectives, note how a Harvard Business School report picked through six myths about VCs, pretty much debunking the rhetoric in the Stanford report. Most VC funds, especially larger ones, do not outperform the market. "VC financing is the exception, not the norm, for startups" and given the rise of crowd funding and a broad range of angel investors, "VCs will continue to play a significant, but most likely smaller, role in channeling capital to disruptive start-ups." The question to ponder:  which category of investor, and specifically which investor groups, are interested in the older boomer and senior markets?

What are the rules, what are the criteria for innovation competitions?

Everyone loves competitions – but could they be better?  RANT ON. So what could be better than innovation competitions? Especially those that focus on improving quality of life for older adults? So in the face of these feel-good goals, here are a few laudable calls-to-action phrases from past competitions. From Aging 2.0: "quality of overall concept, viability of product or service" and "impact on the aging experience – potential to improve quality of life for older adults, caregivers, and/or revolutionize the aging services industry." From Stanford Longevity Design Challenge:  "Create well-designed, practical solutions that address key issues associated with aging." From a CAST/Leading Age student competition: "Transform existing products or create new ones that would appeal to middle-aged adults. Students in gerontology, engineering, business, industrial design, architecture and social work are especially encouraged to participate."  

Six new tech-enabled housing concepts for older adults

The future of housing for seniors – or the future of senior housing? Innovators are approaching the tech-enabled future of homes for seniors from multiple directions – support for people with dementia, new approaches to tech in a senior housing campus, new systems for aging at home, and new kinds of age-friendly housing. Innovation is sorely needed -- considering that current approaches to senior housing, whether in assisted living (too expensive) or age-segregated communities (too isolated and/or risky) may not be right for everyone.  Here are some other recently noted housing approaches, material is from sites or news:


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