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By: Wee Teck Loo

By: Hiromi Yamaguchi

Contrary to popular misconceptions, seniors are embracing the internet and not shunning it. The Global Consumer Trends Survey results showed that nearly half (47%) of respondents agreed that they would feel lost without internet access. The results are not too far off those of other age groups. Seniors are also keen to try new products and services (52%), according to the same survey.

seniors who would be lost without internet connection

Source: Euromonitor International

Internet access helps seniors be connected with their families and the digital world. Seniors also want to lead active lifestyles and embrace new technologies, opening up a huge potential consumer base for companies seeking to grow revenues amid a saturated consumer electronics market. Often, tech companies are overly obsessed with millennials, and only launch products catering to this specific consumer segment. Seniors are often overlooked as a viable consumer segment and companies are missing out on the silver dollar as a result. Seniors, in fact, have more money and are more willing to spend on products and services than the younger population.

Old is not low-tech

Often manufacturers’ perceptions of products for the elderly are simply cheap and basic offerings. While there are elderly consumers who prefer a simple feature phone, the majority would like the latest and greatest products available. The challenge for manufacturers to entice the elderly consumers is to make new products and technologies simple and easy for them to use.

Essentially products that do not have a steep learning curve. Many elders are tech-savvy, and the products that they buy must be fully featured and attractive in appearance.  Manufacturers have to add the elderly as part of their beta testing group when releasing products, and their feedback must be taken into account when improving products.

Smart assistant for the elderly started as a joke

Saturday Night Live ran a spoof advertisement of a specially designed Alexa (a smart assistant running on Amazon’s wireless speaker, Echo) tailored for the elderly. While started as a joke, the idea gained traction, and software developers are starting to build elderly-specific functionality into Alexa. Making use of Echo’s 2-way communication capabilities, a family member can check whether the senior family member is inside the house, and speak to the person.

While speaking to a device like Amazon Echo or even Siri on an iPhone may be awkward at first, speaking is a more natural activity for the elderly than trying to type on a smartphone. Critically, there are elderly consumers who are illiterate, and for whom vocal instruction is the only method of communication. Smart assistants can already be easily installed on to any existing connected device, such as smartphone, tablet or computer. Minor hardware changes such as more sensitive microphones and software tweaks to tailor to longer pauses when asking a question, and higher audio volume levels, will be needed. These changes do not require extensive redevelopment, and it is ironic that a talk show planted the seed of the idea rather than electronic manufacturers, who are spending millions of dollars on focus group studies and research and development.

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