Tech is no longer solely a domain of the young.
The world’s population is becoming older, faster. Among developed nations, 24 per cent of Japanese and 21 per cent of Germans are aged 65 and older. In the US, this demographic is projected to rise to at least 18 per cent by 2030. Similarly, developing countries such as China, Brazil, Chile and Peru are also seeing demographic change: as their economies become more developed there is a shift to lower birth rates and longer life expectancy. Contrary to popular belief that older consumers tend to shun technology, this growing and increasingly significant demographic is actually starting to embrace it.
In the US, a Pew Internet study last year found that for the first time half of adults aged 65 and older are online, although older age groups tended to have a narrower range of online activities. Over 65s were using search engines and email, but they were less likely than younger users to use social networks or bank online. In the UK, an OFCOM study showed that in 2009 internet take-up appeared to be driven by older age groups.
One form of mobile computing that has expanded into different demographics is the tablet. Tablets are not just used by the young, well-off and tech-savvy but increasingly also by older and middle income earners. According to research by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. “tablets have changed the technology landscape for seniors”.
In terms of usability tablets’ touch-screen technology is a more user friendly interface, as it does away with keyboards and fiddly buttons. Apple’s iPad has intuitive appeal for older consumers who may have impaired fine motor skills. Meanwhile, the iPhone’s background noise suppression technology has garnered favour with the hard of hearing.
Online shopping is also a growth area for the older consumer, in particular those with mobility problems. Recognising the growth potential of this consumer segment, in April Amazon launched its ‘50+ Active and Healthy Living Store’, which offers nutrition, wellness, exercise and fitness, medical, personal care, beauty and entertainment items for customers in the 50+ age range.
E-books are also popular; reducing the need for trips to the book shop or library as thousands of books are now at their fingertips and reading is easier on the eyes as the font size can be adjusted.
Another sector that is benefiting from advances in technology is healthcare. Adoption of wireless remote monitoring devices or ‘telehealth’ technology will rise six-fold to more than 1.8 million people worldwide in four years, according to research by InMedica. A tablet can provide reminders for medication and doctors’ appointments, as well as messaging and video access to caregivers and family members. Healthcare providers are partnering with software developers: for example, in the UK the NHS uses Microsoft’s HealthVault application, which allows patients to securely store and share health information online.
Increasingly, technology is conquering new demographics and helping improve our lives today.
Ian Warmerdam is Co-Manager of the Henderson Global Technology Fund