IBM, Apple and Japan Post Group recently announced an initiative to help senior citizens better deal with everyday issues and connect with health care providers and the wider world via technology.
The first-of-its-kind program will deliver Apple iPads with customized apps to senior citizens to keep seniors engaged and connected with health care providers and others.
Built on the global partnership Apple and IBM announced last year, the iPads will be rolled out by Japan Post and come with software designed by IBM. After piloting iPads and apps custom- developed for the elderly, Japan Post Group will expand the service in stages. The ultimate objective is to include four million to five million seniors in Japan by 2020. Today, more than 33 million people or 25 percent of Japan’s population are seniors. The figure is projected to grow to 40 percent over the next 40 years.
“We are joining with two of the world’s most respected leaders in technology to bring our elderly generation into the connected world, expand our businesses by deepening relationships, and discover new ways to strengthen the fabric of our society and economy,” said Taizo Nishimuro, CEO of Japan Post Group, in a statement.
The iPads delivered to seniors will include customized apps plus familiar capabilities and features, such as FaceTime, Messages, Mail, Photos and iCloud Photo Sharing. Users will have access to the App Store, iTunes Store and iBooks Store. The iPad will include iOS 8, which offers accessibility features, such as settings for low- vision and hearing- impaired users.
There also will be custom apps specifically for the elderly. These include reminders and alerts about medications, exercise and diet, along with direct access to community activities and supporting services such as grocery shopping and job matching.
IBM will offer exclusive cloud services, via its IBM MobileFirst for iOS platform, for data integration; security, analytics, and management of millions of devices, plus systems integration services and training for Japan Post Group employees.
The companies’ efforts are prescient in that the world’s population is constantly aging as more folks are living longer. As a percentage of global population, the elderly will increase from 11.7 percent in 2013 to more than 21 percent by 2050. Every day, 10,000 people turn 65, and 40 percent of seniors live alone or with their spouse only. Moreover, in Japan, these historic generational shifts contribute to an imbalance in the labor force, a concentration of wealth among people who tend to spend less than other age groups, and significant strain on extended families. Today, nearly 180,000 people in Japan between the ages of 15 and 29 provide care for a family member.
“The problem is often discussed in the U.S. due to the mass of the 75 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. “In 2012, that group made up about 14 percent of the U.S. population but the figure is expected to rise to 20 percent by 2029.”
In Japan, he said, the numbers are growing more rapidly with the percentage of elderly citizens on track to rise from roughly a quarter of the current population to 40 percent in 2025. “That will impact government and social programs massively and further strain already stressed individuals and families,” he said.
IBM, Apple Partnership Takes Aim at Japanese Seniors
The companies involved also are providing pioneering text analytics and accessibility technologies, many invented in IBM Research – Tokyo. These include Japanese natural language analysis and tracking to guide seniors and make the experience more natural.
The nationwide infrastructure of Japan Post Group has the ability to cover the “last mile” to virtually every citizen of Japan. In addition to 24,000 post offices and a workforce of 400,000, Japan Post Group has existing financial relationships with nearly all of the 115 million adults in Japan.
“What we’re starting today draws on IBM’s long heritage of innovation at the intersection of technology, business and society,” said Ginni Rometty, president, chairman and CEO of IBM, in a statement. “The potential we see here — as broad as national economics and as specific as the quality of life of individuals and their families — is one example of the potential of mobile-led transformation anywhere in the world where issues of an aging population exist.”
“This initiative has potential for global impact, as many countries face the challenge of supporting an aging population, and we are honored to be involved in supporting Japan’s senior citizens and helping enrich their lives,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, in a statement. “iPad is incredibly intuitive, easy to use and has accessibility features built in, making it a perfect device for any generation to be connected and engaged.”
Japan Post Group’s postal operations include the national Watch Over service. For a nominal monthly fee, Japan Post Group personnel check in on elderly customers and assure families about the well-being of their relatives. That service can now be extended and enhanced with iPad, complementing the in-person monitoring. Japan Post Group will begin the pilot service in the second half of this year, which will be offered in conjunction with the Watch Over service. Pund-It’s King said he believes there are caveats and pitfalls for the partners to consider. “Any plan as large and ambitious as this one is bound to encounter problems along the way, including adequately training Japan Post employees and engaging with elders who are often technology-challenged,” he said. “Bringing hundreds of national and local agencies into the mix, along with millions of family members will also have to be effectively managed.”
Moreover, the initiative should serve as a valuable test bed for IBM and Apple that could lead to additional, similar projects, King said.
“If this initial effort succeeds, it could eventually impact tens of millions of elders worldwide and provide lucrative lines of business for the two companies,” he said. “Overall, we consider the new initiative between the Japan Post Group, IBM and Apple an intriguing effort that offers potentially valuable benefits for everyone involved. If the program succeeds, it is likely to be replicated in numerous other markets by IBM and Apple, and copied by numerous other vendors.”