Big Thinking For Older Consumers in 2013: The Internet of Things

by , Jan 2, 2013, 2:17 PM
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The Consumer Electronics Show opens Jan. 8 in Las Vegas. During the week, morning news will be filled with reports of the most PR-worthy and sometimes very strange new ideas and devices on display at this enormous trade event. While the novel item makes a cute story, the manufacturers, engineers and designers behind all of these products must care about an end-consumer, who will ask for the technology in the package they have created. Perhaps it’s my bias in focusing on mature consumers, but I believe the most interesting products and ideas are part of the Digital Health Summit and the Silvers Summit

Many of the presentations focus on technology that monitors consumers, and much is focused on health care, caregiving and health-related reporting. To truly capture the imagination and marketshare of the lucrative boomer consumer market, we need to pull back to the larger concept of the “the Internet of things.” First coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, the concept recognized the issue of the computer -- and the Internet -- being dependent on human action for information. He recognized a more human environment where people have no time and little attention. 

Ashton said, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so."

In the Internet of Things, the geographic location of a thing and its dimensions are critical. Think about sensors and their location in the home of a senior aging in place as an example. A system such as this, rolled out nationwide, creates a need to handle massive amounts of data in a time-sensitive manner. The cloud becomes a central player. 

In a recent post for Forbes, John Humphreys, VP of marketing for Egenera, a provider of cloud management software, reported that 

there are approximately two Internet-connected devices for every man, woman and child on the planet. Analysts believe this ratio will surpass six by 2025. That’s 50 billion Internet-connected devices in the coming decade. 

For consumers, this means highly personalized products and services as companies have hyper-specific data about activities and need states. The result could be customized delivery at a lower cost. To date, these types of applications have been limited to science and medicine. Healthcare is focused on hyper-personalized medicine that is driven by genomic data. Consider the implications as this continues to move into the consumer product arena. 

As we develop new products and services for the Baby Boomers as they age, what will this mean? The convergence and adoption of smartphones, tablets, readers and devices like GPS systems mean Boomers are primed and ready for smart solutions. Many of the solutions designed and engineered for seniors will not pass the test and will not resonate with the Boomer population. 

The ability to customize the consumer experience and respond to individual needs will resonate with them. While objective collection of data from “things” will drive smarter design, Boomers will drive this concept to the next level. And there should be some conversation about that at the Consumer Electronic Show. We have moved to the Internet of Things. Consider the effect that 80 million older adults with feedback will have. The Internet of Things and People? 

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