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

Brian S Hall / March 3rd, 2014

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.

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.
  • Mayson

    “Older people use iPhones, younger people use Samsungs.” Could this be perhaps because older people have money, and younger people are broke?

  • jfutral

    Apple never promotes cool. What’s a double edged sword for the competition is in promoting cool it really plays more into “fad”. Personally, I think this is one reason why Apple never plays the “cool” card, even when a judge proclaims them as such. You can’t proclaim cool, it is imbued by others.

    Joe

    • klahanas

      Have to disagree with you there friend. Dancing shadow figures, Mac vs. PC, “What will your verse be”, etc.
      All undeniably cool.

      • jfutral

        While one might consider the Dancing shadows “cool” that is absolutely an inference. I never read them as “be cool”, I just read them as “have fun and enjoy your music”.

        And if the Mac v PC commercial was supposed to say “Mac is cool, PC is not” then that certainly backfired. but even in Apple’s (I can’t remember who at Apple) own words, it was not about cool vs not cool.

        Joe

        • klahanas

          No question it’s all by inference. They wanted to foster the perception of being cool though. As they should. I definitely don’t expect them to come out and say “we suck”. Being cool is part of the experience.

          • jfutral

            The only reason I don’t believe they are trying to portray or imply “cool” is because cool is not an emotion. Apple is mostly about conveying emotion in their advertising. Sometimes it is about conveying information/education. But even then couched in emotion. Sometimes the emotion is playfulness or fun. But there is no real way to convey cool. Especially without looking like dweebs. If you have to say you’re cool, you pretty much lose right away.

            Joe

      • Herding_sheep

        The thing is Apple never declared them as “cool.” They simply were just cool. Cool things never actually call themselves cool. Mac vs PC might be the only exception, they didn’t say it outright, but they certainly portrayed themselves as cooler. Maybe not by saying THEY ARE cool, but by pointing out that their competitors were square, lol. Maybe thats why those ads are retired now.

    • great point

  • klahanas

    Hey Brian! What time is it?
    Thanks! Now put your phone back in your pocket.

    You raise some excellent points about watches and wearables in general. These technologies can and will provide value for customers, most especially an aging population. Until watches stop being considered a status symbol (could happen, eventually) the challenge will be in not being viewed as a “hearing aid”, or the user as an obsessive “health nut”. Apple is as much a fashion brand as it is a tech company.

    • Kizedek

      Well, it would be fairly hard for something wearable not to have anything to do with fashion. Nike running shoes are a good example. There is a fashion element, and they may even be something of a fashion statement… but, they actually happen to be pretty comfortable, practical shoes — you can’t really fault someone for wearing them running, because they actually perform that function pretty well and reliably.

      It will be interesting to see if the “watch”/bracelet is suited for running as soon as it is released. At the moment, the conjecture is that it is an iPhone/iPod companion, using bluetooth. To be practical for runners or exercising, I think it would have to have the motion chip and other sensors, and be able to record movement for a couple of hours on its own, without a companion device. Then you would have that data uploaded, analysed and recorded by another device/app.

      • qka

        Sorry, but in my experience, NIKE shoes are garbage. Fall apart quickly. These days, I buy New Balance, made in the USA.

  • RAZ

    Thanks for a typically well thought out post hitting points that others aren’t addressing. The only problem is you are uncomfortably reminding me that I have now entered this demographic.

  • Majipoor

    Young people used to buy iPhones, then Blackberry, then Samsung smartphones and I guess they may purchase at some point Windows Phones then something else. Young people buys whatever is cool now.

    Older people buy what suit them best and then stick with it for years.

    It is not a very clever long term strategy to sell “cool” products, but I think most OEM are not much interested in long term strategies because it is already quite difficult for them to survive in the short to medium term. It is also easier to convince young people that a product is cool.

    Apple is the company with the smartest long term strategy IMO. And at some point, I think Apple may be the ONLY company (in this market) with a solid long germ strategy.

    • klahanas

      “a solid long germ strategy.”
      The antibacterial iWatch! 😉

  • Nope

    “I predict the iWatch will usher in a entirely new personal computing paradigm.”

    I predict the iWatch will never exist.

    • Mark Jones

      Are you saying Apple won’t use the name “iWatch”? Or are you saying that Apple won’t ever make something to be worn on the wrist? For either, why do you say that?

      • Nope

        I’m saying Apple won’t ever make something to be worn on the wrist because I think there’s too little interest in such a thing. Few people agree with me but that’s what I believe.

        • Rene Stein

          There is too little interest because the possible devices are not compelling. Once someone builds a compelling device, there will be interest.

        • Herding_sheep

          Tim Cook doesn’t seem to agree.

          “I think the wrist is interesting. Its natural.”

        • Mark Jones

          Among people I know, most want an iWatch as long as it is elegant and not geeky-looking – no big square displays. For some tasks (getting the time, weather, notifications, to do list), women don’t want to take the iPhone out of their purses, and men don’t want to take it out of their pockets. Some women need to have their iPhones in silent mode but have trouble sensing iPhone vibrations in their purses.

  • Space Gorilla

    I would revise your ‘older people’ age down to 40-ish. When you hit 40 their are aspects of your health that you have to start paying attention to, stuff you never bothered to think much about before. The market for a wearable sensor on the wrist is huge. I suspect it will be called an iWatch but it won’t be a watch just as the iPhone isn’t actually a phone (I’m thinking more of a gorgeous bracelet). The iWatch will of course tell time, but that will not be a primary function. However, many jobs-to-be-done (and telling time is one of them) are made an order of magnitude easier when they become ‘at a glance’ actions as opposed to getting your iPhone out of your pocket and putting it back in your pocket. Make enough jobs-to-be-done an order of magnitude easier and you’ve got a winning consumer product.

  • tz

    iWatch?
    Exactly what might it watch?

    • jfutral

      i’s, of course.

      Joe

  • Claude Hénault

    You are on the right track, but thinking too restrictively. Mobile tech in my view should have two overarching roles: on the one hand, to serve; on the other hand, to protect. The service role is well filled, and growing better all the time. The protection role, for all ages, has yet to be addressed. In my view, an Apple iWatch should address peoples’ fears with a product I notionally label The iWatch Guardian. The article dealt well with health monitoring aspects, but the new punctual reporting of the M7 aspect of Apple’s latest chip permits a lot more: notably always knowing where you are and being able to report to authorities when something bad is happening to you, e.g. measuring the impact of a crash in a car or a fall in a house or on a ski slope, factoring in your age so as to assess possible breakage, query you orally and notifying authorities depending on response or lack of it. The device could enhance security by smoke or carbon monoxide detection.

    With or without reason, people are afraid of many things, accidents, intruders, muggings, medical emergencies. The watch would enhance the feeling of being protected, and find a vast market among all age groups.

    • art hackett

      Now that’s lateral thinking. Did you not mention authentication/security and payments? Would this all be automatic or set up in prefs, iDevice or computer?

  • Avi Greengart

    I think the “Apple is for old people” attackers were not suggesting that the older market is not worth pursuing. They were just hoping that it was true – that young people were abandoning iOS in favor of *their* product, which would grow at the expense of Apple. That said, your perspective on Wearables for seniors overlaid with Apple’s key geographies is really interesting.

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