As a PhD gerontologist, innovation consultant and tech blogger, I have been thrilled to see aging-oriented companies like BeClose and TenderTree recently highlighted on TechCrunch. However when I clicked on the recent article titled Remember Jitterbug Phones for Seniors? Here is the iPad Equivalent, I was quickly appalled and disappointed by the misinformed and sarcastic coverage of the new Family Ribbon iPad app.
First, TechCrunch staff writer Sarah Perez dismisses the need for Family Ribbon’s simplified iPad app because the iPad is the first computer she’s “seen seniors adopt in droves.” Droves, really? Although the iPad has been well-received by older consumers relative to other new technologies, only 7% of people over the age of 65 in the US own a tablet and those numbers decrease to less than 3% of those over the age of 80.
Ms. Perez goes on to dismiss the results of a Mayo Clinic study; one of many that show mental stimulation and physical exercise to have a positive impact on later-life cognition, health and well-being. Any technology that empowers older adults to stay connected and engaged, is certainly a step in the right direction.
Next Ms. Perez asserts that since her two year old daughter knows how to unlock her iPad and launch Angry Birds, the iPad is universally “easy to use.” I’m the first person to be in awe of a young child navigating an iPad or iPhone, but this feat of usability does not necessarily transfer to older users.
Young children approach new technology without any preconceived usability expectations, memories of past technology frustrations, knowledge of the cost of the device or social pressure/expectations regarding their ability to learn how to use it. Young children don’t feel bad about asking for help – seniors often do. The difference between these demographic extremes are multiple, and not the topic here. All of these factors, not to mention age-related sensory and cognitive changes, make technology adoption for older tech novices a unique situation, which often requires more than a one-time, quick demonstration from a well-intended Apple employee or family member (which the author suggests is all the additional help anyone should need).
This is not to say that I think the Family Ribbon product is perfect. It’s not. From a first impression of it, there are aspects of the interface that could be improved and I probably would have made some different choices regarding features and functionality, but that is beside the point. What is important to recognize and commend is that Ivan Osadchiy and Mykola Komarvsky are addressing an important unmet need for a large segment of the population.
It may not be glamorous, it may not achieve a billion dollar valuation – but timely, need-driven innovations like Family Ribbon should be encouraged (or at the very least, not disrespected). It is hard enough to get talented developers and entrepreneurs to focus on the unmet needs and business opportunities facing our aging population (instead of yet another mobile-social-local-photo app) without adding in the fear of being unfairly mocked on an influential tech blog by a sharp-tongued “journalist.” Let’s continue to shine a light on new ideas for our aging populations, but in a more considered way, please.