But Apple Is For Old People! Where iWatch And Apple Have The Last Laugh.

on March 3, 2014
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Anybody still recall when Apple’s chief competitors went about mocking the company for being, well, technology designed for older people? Those attacks came to an abrupt end in large part because Apple kept on printing money. I suspect, however, there is a second reason: iWatch.

iWatch may be the perfect personal computer for boomers, seniors and the elderly, yet Apple’s competitors, desperate to prove they are cool, have only now clued into the importance of this demographic. If at all.

Yes, the Apple iWatch does not exist. Rumors abound nonetheless, most insisting either that Apple iWatch will be the greatest computing revolution ever, or the latest batch of prognostication, an odd sort of tamping down of expectations, as if we should prepare ourselves to be disappointed.

Spoiler alert: neither of these groups knows.

We do know, however, that there is a massive, untapped market for an Apple iWatch: older people.

Consider that a device roughly as we imagine the iWatch to be, can at this very moment, serve as a tracking beacon, a camera, a heart monitor, an exercise monitor, pulse oximeter, a voice-based notification service – “time to take your pills” – a non-invasive glucose monitor, and a possibly a method of alerting the wearer to an impending heart attack.

All of which would be extremely valuable not simply to fitness freaks, but to baby boomers, seniors, elderly — certainly anyone over 60.

Bonus spoiler alert: there are a lot of older people. They positively abound in core Apple markets, including China, Japan and the United States.

The Bleeding Edge

Change comes fast to technology. The irony here is that the next insanely great market for computing tech, wearable devices, may reside within the demographic long considered furthest from the bleeding edge: older folks.

About time.

But first, a trip down memory lane.

“Apple is for old people.”

This glib statement has been a surprisingly persistent refrain from the media ever since the rapid mass market ascendency of the iPhone. Over the past 24 months, a “brand perception measurement” firm noted that Apple’s “biggest fans” hail from the older end of the spectrum. Bloomberg was happy to repeat this gospel: “Older people use iPhones, younger people use Samsungs.”

HTC — remember them? — mocked Apple back in 2011:

iPhones are not that cool anymore. We here are using iPhones, but our kids don’t find them that cool anymore.

Samsung famously mocked iPhone’s appeal to the older crowd in a series of blistering televised attacks:

Not wanting to feel left out, Microsoft joined in on the action, wondering if the mean old lady was nonetheless (wink wink) too young to have an iPhone:

As a way to limit Apple’s growth, this line of attack has simply not worked. Indeed, I think this mocking of Apple – and by extension, all their older users – will come back to haunt the perpetrators.  As this Digital Trends analysis reminds us:

Older consumers tend to have more disposable income and be less price sensitive than young consumers.

In addition, older people, happy and content with their iPhones and iPads, may offer Apple a sly path into the enterprise:

Having a positive perception among older consumers can also have indirect benefits to Apple’s business, since older users are more likely to be able to influence purchasing and technology policies and purchasing at schools, businesses, and enterprises.  

The technorati continue to miss the big picture: whether or not “old people” are a natural Apple customer, we keep making more of them. Lots more. Just in the US, we will have 55 million people age 65 and over by the end of the decade. China is already approaching 200 million people aged 60 and older. This number is growing — fast.

What’s Old Is New Again

Note the graphs below documenting the aging of Japan and China, in particular. These aging populations will require innovate support, services and technologies to meet their unique needs.

asia-demographics

Breaks down like this: More older people, living longer, possibly living alone, and with a greater need for health (and health monitoring) services. Think of the massive potential of an iWatch or similar device for this group.

Thus, while Apple is aggressively pushing into China, I suspect there is far more at stake than sales of iPhone. As Bloomberg noted last year:

More than two decades of record economic growth turned the Chinese into the world’s top consumers of cars and smartphones.

Yes, yes, smartphones. And yet, that very same Bloomberg report noted:

As the almost 200 million population of over-60s more than doubles in the next 40 years…

Forget talk about Apple building a “phablet” because China consumers will demand it. I can’t help but think an iWatch is the most logical product for Apple to build for China (and beyond). An affordable tracking device that monitors pulse, breathing, glucose, offers reminders, its data instantly synched to the cloud, accessible by health authorities, shareable with children or caregivers, could prove invaluable.

Again, it’s not just in China.

The US is similarly gaining extraordinary numbers of older people, as this PBS report noted:

(Starting in 2011) the first of the estimated 79 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 will turn 65 years old this year, at a rate of 10,000 a day. (emphasis added)

It gets better — if you’re Apple and if you’re working on an iWatch:

The number of people enrolled in Medicare will grow from 47 million in 2010 to roughly 80 million when the last of the baby boomers turns 65 in about two decades, while enrollment in Social Security is expected to rise from 44 million to some 73 million. At the same time, the ratio of workers paying taxes to support the programs to beneficiaries will drop.

Our healthcare industry, and our seniors, are going to be tasked to do more with less. Something like an iWatch, priced under $500, say, could prove a rather innovative means to save money on health testing, monitoring and possibly even visits to the doctor.

The Case For iWatch

It may seem like smartphones are everywhere, but even in the US the latest data shows that less than 20% of people over 65 have a smartphone. Likely, they find little need. But an iWatch, as imagined, could prove to be a near-necessity. Ask yourself: who is best equipped, anywhere in the world, to build a highly functional, reasonably affordable, startlingly intuitive, wearable personal computing device? My money’s on Apple.

Almost a year ago, CEO Tim Cook said “I think the wrist is interesting. I’m wearing this (Nike Fuelband) on my wrist…it’s somewhat natural. But as I said before, I think for something to work here, you first have to convince people it’s so incredible that they want to wear it.”

I do not know if Apple has reached that “incredible” stage yet, nor when they might. But a device that older people can legitimately operate and will use, offering valuable and personalized health data, could prove to be yet another massive market for the company.

I predict the iWatch will usher in a entirely new personal computing paradigm, flipping the early adopter/late adopter convention on its head. For the next phase of computing, build first for the old, that’s the bleeding edge, then let the technology drift out to the rest of the market in due time.