Open It, Use It: The Move From Indifference To Friendliness

The drumbeat of developments in packaging and technology these days brings new opportunities along with new challenges. Although we hear about generational skews in the profiles of various devices, some tenets remain constant: access and usage should be paramount in terms of design, function and marketing, while ultimately, usefulness and relevance are key.

Safe at Home
AARP recently reported that consumers age 55 and older are willing to use devices such as those that regulate light or temperature, detect falls, communicate with the outside world, or monitor vital signs -- if doing so will help them continue living in their own homes. But regardless of the technology, its application or its packaging, these consumers must be able to actually use it.

Easy to Open?
Ninety-two percent of this demographic said that easy-to-open packaging is the most important product feature. We can cite some success stories in the market, including the Vitality GlowCap and Aleve's arthritis-friendly bottle cap. Yet despite these innovations, issues still persist with clamshell and blister packaging -- both of which are difficult to open without any physical limitations.



Getting Technical
Consumer electronics manufacturers have "discovered" the Boomer and senior market, as witnessed by recent design innovations and the thought leadership behind the Consumer Electronics Show's mature user-focused Silver Summit. Mobile communication has led the way (the Jitterbug phone is still around). Interestingly, three in four adults over 55 agree that advanced features are unimportant outside of text and voice capabilities.

Invading Cyberspace
According to a study from OnePoll, more adults over 55 than in the 18-to-24 category own an e-reader or tablet PC such as the iPad and the Kindle. These devices virtually eliminate the need for reading glasses, feature intuitive, user-friendly interfaces, and are fueling this demographic's growing interest in staying connected and enjoying online activity.

More than 80 tablet PCs were launched at this year's CE Show, and manufacturers reported that mature consumers are definitely leading the charge in sales. This same group is also gaming on their phones, with around 13% of 55- to 64-year-olds and 5% of people 65 and older playing games using a smartphone or old-fashioned (!) cell phone.

Product manufacturers are not only paying attention to universal design but also to interactive design in devices ranging from appliances to home medical equipment. Innovations include the Flipper Big Button, a remote control with larger controls and minimal functions, and TV Ears, a wireless-enhanced sound-reinforcement system. That's a lot of facts and figures. So what can you do?

Manufacturers need to seek opportunities to make their products easy to access, easy to use, and easy to handle, keeping in mind that mature consumers are increasingly having issues with dexterity, mobility, eyesight and hearing. Marketers and developers of mobile content need to realize that these consumers should not be underestimated or ignored, despite their current or impending physical challenges.

Encouraging informed experimentation is therefore a good idea - mature consumers, and Boomers in particular, are willing to consider new technologies and brands that offer them real, tangible, perceived benefits. Finally, allow these consumers to feel "techie" without overwhelming them with the technology itself.

As the population ages, there will need to be a shift toward more user-friendly access in packaging, consumer products and personal technology, as well as toward content that is more relevant and engaging. And if the current crop of companies fails to focus on this market, new players are going to step in to fill the void.

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