On 30 April, a joint announcement was made by Apple, IBM and the nation’s private postal service Japan Post regarding a new project that aims to change the lives of Japan’s aging population.
The three companies are combining their expertise to develop a line of iPads with specialized apps for senior citizens. Designed by IBM in conjunction with elderly care services in the works by Japan Post, it is hoped that the tablet computers will help to reduce the burden on younger generations as they care for an increasing number of aged family members.
Apple will be supplying the hardware in the form of an iPad, a device whose interface is so intuitive and simple that my own daughter was effective with it at about age one. Of course, seniors will be in need of more features than a Goodnight Moon ebook, so that alone won’t cut it.
This is where IBM comes in. They are currently working on a series of apps tailored to the needs of the elderly. Some will assist in daily activities like monitoring and reminding about medication, diet, and exercise. Others will help seniors get connected with social activities and possible jobs in their community to help keep active.
Improvements will also be made to text and voice recognition to be more suitable and natural for older generations. Also, a system will be set up to allow users and Japan Post employees to keep in contact more easily. This is because Japan Post and many its 400,000 employees will be involved in the customer service end of this project.
In addition to delivery services, Japan Post is also a major bank and insurance company. This means that probably all of the project’s target users are already customers of Japan Post in one way or another. This will facilitate purchasing and setup for seniors who are less likely to shop online or step into an Apple Store.
Japan Post is also planning to incorporate these machines into their Watch Over service. This service has mail carriers check in on elderly people and report back to their family for an added fee. With these new iPads the service is hoped to be made more efficient.
Japan is being used as a test area for these systems as it is facing an aging population faster that other countries. Some trial machines will be used sometime in the second half of this year, and they hope to steadily grow it to four or five million users by 2020. If successful these can be implemented in other countries as well.
The heads of all three companies showed their enthusiasm for the project during the announcement.
“We are joining with two of the world’s most respected leaders in technology to bring our elderly generation into the connected world, expand our businesses by deepening relationships, and discover new ways to strengthen the fabric of our society and economy.”
(Taizo Nishimuro, Japan Post Group CEO)
“What we’re starting today draws on IBM’s long heritage of innovation at the intersection of technology, business and society. The potential we see here—as broad as national economics and as specific as the quality of life of individuals and their families—is one example of the potential of mobile-led transformation anywhere in the world where issues of an aging population exist.”
(Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO)
“This initiative has potential for global impact, as many countries face the challenge of supporting an aging population, and we are honored to be involved in supporting Japan’s senior citizens and helping enrich their lives. [The] iPad is incredibly intuitive, easy to use and has accessibility features built in, making it a perfect device for any generation to be connected and engaged.”
(Tim Cook, Apple CEO)
Spirits are high but the companies certainly have their work cut out for them. Based on personal experience, it can be difficult to get even people in my parents’ age-group interested in using smartphone or tablet devices, and it surely doesn’t get any easier with age.