Review Of Senior Technology Products & Silvers Summit @ CES 2010….

Complete gadget overload…between the lights of Las Vegas and the toys at the Consumer Electronics Show(CES) this weekend was sensory overload, even for a technophile like myself.  Sexy products and gadgets? Yes.  Practical?  Some yes, some no.  The primary focus of CES is to generate interest in products for a younger generation with large amounts of disposable income…so why did Senior Housing News attend?  Everything at CES is applicable to senior housing whether it’s aging at home or at some type of care facility.  Will the 55+ market spend huge amounts of money into MP3 players and 3-D televisions?  Probably not.  Are they cool?  Absolutely but some of the stuff that you are able to play with (let alone install/troubleshoot)  at CES may require a computer science degree from MIT. 

The Digital Health Summit and Silvers Summit covered a full day of presentations that went from 8 am until almost 6 pm in rapid fire sessions of 45 minutes a piece.  Next year, the organizers plan on having a day for each.  The Digital Health sessions were standing room only and the Silvers Summit were near capacity until the very end.  Very wide ranging audience from care providers, software professionals, hardware engineers, senior technology firms.  This part of CES will continue to grow more in the coming years…guaranteed.

Some of the more interesting products that maybe relevant to the elder market displayed at the show and the conference include:

  • Wellcore – New Personal Emergency Response system (PERS) that is a wearable solution that automatically detects falls using different technology than the traditional sensors used in other PERS devices. 
  • Kodak Picture Frames – One of the gadgets for all ages (but especially easy for seniors) will be the new picture frames coming to market that allow users to email pictures directly to the frames bypassing the downloads. Nice and Simple.
  • Home Automation –  Kwikset’s SmartCode with Home Connect Technology – More keyless entry solutions using FOBs, numeric touch pads and biometrics along with various electronic monitoring solutions.  Rather than spinning much of the marketing towards senior solutions, these providers in the home automation area are still talking about tracking “Susie” when she comes home after curfew and mom and dad getting a text message as such.  Lots of practical approaches for senior living but not readily on the lips of the vendors showcasing the home tech solutions.
  • TV-Ears – The company that makes TV-Ears has come out with a television designed specifically for seniors.  The value proposition is not in the TV but in the delivery and presentation for the senior and how the product is engineered for simplicity.  The CEO discussed some of the initial challenges he had with a large national retailer in agreeing to distribute his original product, the TV-Ears.  Much to the retailer’s surprise, his products flew off the shelf.  Fascinating story with the challenges of distribution.
  • E-Readers. Amazon, Sony, Borders, etc.  There are a bunch of them out there.  I think this could be a sleeper success in the senior market depending on the resolutions of the screens and the ability to magnify the fonts.  The issue is that there are too many brands and platforms right now.
  • DAKIM Brain Fitness – We’ve covered a number of the releases on DAKIM at SHN but I always like playing with the system and is so well designed.  Dakim’s announcement at CES is the release of their software for use in regular PCs and on MACs.  More on this to come.
  • University Affiliated Research.  One of the more interesting presentations was the work that was being done at the Carnegie Mellon University-Quality of Life Technology Center.  Check out their website for more details.  I also sat next to the director of research and development from UC-Irvine that showed me a number of related technology / engineering research areas that had practical senior care concepts in mind.

One of the most important takeaways from the Silvers Summit panels was that all of the entrepreneurs presenting products was their focus on the melding of hardware, software AND SERVICE.  While some tech companies do not offer great tech support (think of Dell a few years ago) nor want you to call their support lines, these ‘elder tech’ companies not only want their users to call, they consider it part of their competitive advantage.  These entrepreneurs focused on their hardware/software design (and outsourced the manufacturing) but also went to great lengths to win the loyalty is the service through support / installation / maintenance.  Hard to imagine Apple, Sony or Panasonic having a separate support line for the 55+ market when their focus is to get you off and on as fast as possible.

At the end of the conference, I sat there and thought about how 1.5 years ago my mother did not want an Apple Iphone and now she is convincing her friends and sisters to upgrade to an Iphone when their contracts are up.  As much as people may bitch about how un-“senior friendly” the user interface on the Iphone, my 60+ mother loves it for a number of reasons even though her eyes are going bad and even her sisters who are in their seventies are getting on the bandwagon after they get trained.  At first they say “I don’t need all these things” and after 6 months the attitudes change.  For her, there will be no going back to a simple cell phone.  While she may not be the “norm”, she’s proof that those who are initially resistant can adapt with training and time.

Will seniors adapt to these ‘unfriendly’ interfaces by necessity (or no other choice) at first and then by choice after sometime?  Probably.  Demographic trends should scream to the larger consumer electronics companies (especially in the US, China and India) that they need to pay attention to these areas and the probably are in some respects.  The question of modifying those systems for the senior market is all about the money and the return.  The upgrade lifecycle for a senior buying a television is probably along the lines of 10 years+ vs. those of the younger generations of 3-5 years.  The ROI is much better for selling to the 20-30s vs. 60s-70s. 


At this point, it looks like the major technology companies are looking for the seniors to adapt versus the other way around.  Right or wrong, many small technology businesses are proving that there are riches in the niches of senior technology and electronics products.  One thing is for sure…SHN is going to continue covering technology stories for this market.