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Consider technologies designed for all, including older adults

Summarizing the Pew Research reports to expose boomer/senior tech adoption trends was quite an eye opener, shining a light on the wide gap between enthusiasm and hype versus the reality of actual boomer/senior buyers and users. For example, in case you were wondering: the tablet, E-reader and smart phone have not taken the 65+ population by storm. But 24% of boomers and 11% of seniors have smart phones today – and I believe that number will double at the next survey. Not exactly a groundswell, nevertheless a clear recognition of benefit.

Here are seven tech products/platforms (some free!) designed for all, including older adults. Sometimes, like the PC, they can be declared as so yesterday, but don't believe what you read. These tech offerings (possibly despite the vendor) are designed for all ages -- they are/will be usable and inexpensive for older adults as the adoption of their base platform grows. For those in the services businesses who work with seniors, surprise a local vendor with a new market and invite in a few to do a demo! Or visit the phone store and say 'show me!' As with any new tool, a bit of startup guidance on the use goes a long way.

  1. Netbook with large monitor.  Netbooks are still cheap, recently dropping below $200 in price, no doubt due to iPad hysteria. Surprise, they do everything that a $400-600 iPad does, and more! They have a built-in camera for Skype, you can load up iTunes and watch rented movies, you can read a book, surf the web, view Flash videos, chat with your friends, and (bonus!!!) you can run all of the office software that is yours or read what is is sent to you, including that novel you’re writing in Word. They weigh in at under 3 pounds, twice the iPad weight, but many times the functionality if you're fond of producing punctuated paragraphs. 

  2. Free Kindle Reader software.  It’s not necessary to go out and buy a Kindle (I know, crazy, to read a book that sadly someday soon may be only viewable through E-readers). The free software can be downloaded for a PC or a smartphone, syncing up where you are in the book depending on which device you’re using. Caveat: you still have to buy the book (although many on Amazon are free or 99 cents.)

  3. Free GPS Navigation -- multiple phones.   As Eric Taub noted in this weekend’s New York Times, you can spend upwards of $200 on a GPS device for your dashboard, or you can use the turn-by-turn voice-enabled navigation (“Take me to this restaurant in Anycity, USA”) on an Android phone for free – assuming you have the phone and a data plan – and you can also use the device as a phone and a website search tool. I might argue that it is almost enough reason to get the phone to be able to speak your search request rather than type it.  Turn-by-turn navigation is, of course, available or downloadable for BlackBerry, iPhone.

  4. Emergency response software – multiple phones.  This is an interesting and recent app introduction – literally called Personal Emergency Response Systems (just like ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t…’ you know what I'm talking about.).  Now there are smart phone PERS applications -- Guardly, vSOS, BuddyGuard, GreatCall, and others -- for less than $15/month, linking to a call center when you press the (app) button on the phone.  Promoted as usable by teenagers out alone, these apps have utility for any older adult including the "40% of the 75+ population living alone."

  5. Fitness tracking technologies – multiple devices. FitBit, DirectLife, and other technologies are, ironically, targeted at the young and fit (all part of the ‘measured self’ trend/fad.) However, these technologies are great for monitoring anyone's status and, more to the point, up and about movement – same tech, different use. The data can be transmitted to the older adult's own netbook with large monitor.  Could be a great gift. 

  6. Microsoft Kinect applications -- multiple vendors. From cardiac rehab to treating autism, Microsoft's Kinect platform is being applied for multiple purposes and uses (take a look at just the possibilities in medical applications) -- with a developer's kit out now for non-commercial research, hopefully apps will spill forth (beyond the Ideo cool demo) that clearly will benefit all ages, with multi uses, likely no XBox will be required.

  7. Palm devices and software. With all the hoopla about iPhones and Androids, it might be useful to remember that is a still market out there for Palm devices (including the $62 PalmOne m500!) You can buy a stylus pack of three (no need to finger a finicky flickering screen), as well as plenty of software for them, including OnTimeRx (for medication reminders, $10.99, see Susan Torrico's offer in the comment below) and Memory Coach, at $9.95 for training visual memory.



What a great article!!! I've been trying to get people to do this for a decade, but it seems that you and I are the only ones to recognize the potential.

When I think of all the "hand-me-down" devices that could be re-purposed for boomers and seniors, it makes me want to cry!

There are millions of old but very reliable Palm devices that could be put to great use as medication manager devices with OnTimeRx software program. Shoot! If anyone wants to fire one up for dear ol' Mom or Dad, I'd be willing to give a Free Palm registration to any user who mentions your name and this idea.

I LOVE your fantastic idea about netbooks also. They really are amazing for looking up all kinds of stuff on the net. I call mine my "Answerbook" and keep it by my TV chair to check Wiki-info and IMDB.com movie trivia.

I've found that most seniors don't relate to being seniors. They want to be treated like "normal people". Let's hope companies get that message soon.

Susan, I agree that there are many older products out there that could be reconditioned for different uses. I also deal daily with seniors who are trying to work with ancient PC's that are usually hand me downs from family. The family feels that Grandma doesn't need a high capability device so why not let her "play" with this old one. The problem is that most of the time the senior gets so frustrated with slow downloads, error messages, difficult to learn software and old virus software that they quit using them and they gather dust. Vendors also drop support on many of the older products so it is harder to find a good tech to work on them or provide spare parts. I bet most of us remember the word "Hodgepodge".

I feel the best and most financially sound option is to deploy "Systems" that meet the specific needs of the senior today while insuring upgrade and compatibility in the future. Make it "thier technology". Not a hand me down. I guarantee they will tell you what they really need and they will be more active in learning "THIER" sustem. Win-Win for everyone.

Laurie - Great posting today and really appreciate Susan's comments as well. You once again have brought the key issues around the need for simple technology design to light!!!

Good post and list, Laurie! I am hopeful tablets in some form will eventually catch on with older users, with their combination of ease of use, relatively low cost and functionality. Regardless of the actual device, though, we need to keep pressing the industry to recognize the untapped potential of the market and design devices with a greater range of users in mind.

Hi Laurie-

I think it really highlights how important it is that we consider how tech products are inclusive and not exclusively designed with an age cap. Boomers account for a significant portion of the technology consumer population, even as they enter retirement. Cost effective technology products like the ones you noted are definitely valuable assets. It helps seniors remain connected to family and friends with low cost/risk when being introduced to new technologies. I currently partner with a local Chicago company called ipads Chicago http://ipadschicago.com/ that fits iPads specifically for Seniors. Their iPads are pre-loaded with programs specially tailored with application packages that are medically proven to increase the health of older adults through stimulation. My company also provides Internet service specifically designed for the residents of senior housing communities nationwide at wholesale rates. Inclusive marketing practices and design flexibility and infrastructure are mutually beneficial to vendors and seniors.