When you’re one of the largest tech companies in the world, it’s not hard to get people to talk about you. It seems as if Apple is in the spotlight on a daily basis for something new: whether we should buy stock in the company, when its new shiny watches are going to finally be shipped and on your wrist, and rumors about when the next generation of smartphone will be released. In many ways, Apple is doing what it can to make itself indispensable in society, increasing its appeal among a wide range of audiences. Now, the company is branching out in attempts to secure another demographic by giving millions of iPads to senior citizens.
The move is two-fold. For one, partnering with IBM in the program that will give iPads to millions of Japanese seniors in the next several years shows that the two powerhouse companies are making good on their word to inspire innovation through collaboration. Two, both companies (but especially Apple) benefit by securing a new demographic of customers, showing that literally anyone can use their technology. If kids are learning their ABCs on an iPad, then seniors can surely benefit from the devices, too.
Together, Apple and IBM are proving they have something to offer potential customers who have never played Angry Birds, and are more concerned about their cholesterol levels than whether the Apple Watch works with tattoos. The program’s pilot will begin in the second half of this year, with 1,000 iPads distributed by Japan Post to older citizens in the country. By 2020, Apple reported, the program will aim to distribute 4 to 5 million devices across the rapidly aging nation.
Aging populations, meet technology
Japan is perhaps the best petri dish to choose for this type of social experiment. The country, known for its aging population, has 33 million seniors who make up 25% of Japan’s population. That figure is expected to grow to 40% over the next 40 years. Globally, the elderly comprised 11.7% of the world’s population in 2013, which Apple reports is expected to rise to more than 21% by 2050. In other words, there’s going to continue to be an increased demand for tools that senior citizens can use during retirement that help them with daily tasks. What’s more, 40% of seniors live alone or only with a spouse.
It’s in this niche that Apple and IBM believe they have something to offer. The two companies announced a partnership last year that would create a series of apps to improve business functions and other processes. Wired reports that IBM has since launched 22 apps in its partnership with Apple. The apps serve consumers in 11 industries, including airline rebooking and financial updates. In the pilot with Japan, IBM will take the lead on developing custom apps that help remind seniors to take their medications and stick to diet or exercise programs, Re/code explained. Other typical features, such as FaceTime and the iCloud will come standard so seniors have access to more ways of communicating with their loved ones.
This is where Apple and IBM will prove their worth to older customers and their families. Many young families in Japan are responsible for the well-being of their parents or grandparents, and a partnership with Japan Post allows the service to be rolled out in a unique way. The company, the largest employer in Japan with about 400,000 employees, serves as the country’s postal service, a bank, and an insurance company. The most interesting part of this setup is that Japan Post already offers a Watch Over service for its customers, which means for a fee families can pay to have the postal carriers check in on their elderly family members. The iPads will be an extension of this service.
If the program goes well, Apple and IBM will be able to increase their market share of products that didn’t previously interest seniors as much. Using technology — in this case, iPads — could serve as an intermediary between complete independence and families needing to hire skilled care. The home health care industry is picking up but this could help consumers save some costs, perhaps even for a few years, before seniors would need more advanced care.
Even more than that, the technology allows for more constant contact between family members, at a much lower cost than buying and setting up the technology themselves. (The iPads will be free for customers who sign up for the Watch Over service.) “Many countries are talking about bending the cost curve of health,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the press conference about the partnership. But while reducing health care costs is a worthy cause, “it’s not something that gets you really excited,” he said. “This is about improving the quality of life. There’s nothing more important than that.”
As more adults who were early iPhone adopters begin to inch toward retirement, the shift of services will become even easier. Apple won’t need to hold seniors’ hands in order to get them to try the new app offerings; they’ll likely seek them out just as they downloaded business apps in their pre-retirement years. But for now, getting seniors to embrace the technology while also proving its worth in this area are key. If they can do that, both Apple and IBM will prove they have much more to offer than fancy gadgets.
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS