Over the next five years, millions of elderly residents in Japan will receive iPads with custom-built apps from Apple and IBM especially designed for their unique needs. Launched in collaboration with the Japan Post Group, the initiative will provide a testing ground for computing services aimed at the world's fast-growing population of senior citizens.
The Japan Post Group, which provides postal, banking and insurance services to the country's 126 million people, already offers a nationwide "Watch Over" service to check on the well-being of elderly residents. While the global population of seniors is projected to grow rapidly by mid-century, Japan has already experienced a dramatic demographic shift, with one out of every four citizens currently over the age of 65.
The Japanese iPad program aims to provide the Apple devices to between 4 million and 5 million Japanese residents by 2020. It also builds on the Apple-IBM partnership launched last year with the goal of providing more apps and services for mobile enterprise users.
Bringing Seniors 'Into the Connected World'
Announced in July, the MobileFirst for iOS initiative brings together Apple and IBM for the joint development of iPad apps designed especially for mobile business needs in a variety of industries. Among some of the first apps the companies have rolled out are several aimed at the healthcare sector, including Hospital RN, Hospital Lead, Hospital Tech and Home RN.
Working with the Japan Post Group, the partners are betting that iPad's intuitive apps also hold promise for elderly users with different information needs than those of global enterprises. To be launched as a pilot service of the Japan Post Group sometime during the second half of this year, the senior computing program will provide users with health and medication alerts, links to community support and other custom-built apps.
A sample screenshot of the program's iPad interface shows a greeting page with large icons for "My Family," "My Health" and "My Community," along with a telephone icon to call for help, a button for questions and a link to the Japan Post.
Taizo Nishimuro, CEO of Japan Post Group, said the effort aims 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."
New Accessibility and Language Technologies
In addition to providing seniors with iPads offering custom settings for users with vision or hearing problems, the initiative will give them access to the full range of other Apple apps and content, including FaceTime, iCloud Photo Sharing, the iTunes Store and the iBooks Store.
IBM researchers have also worked to develop Japanese natural language analysis, tracking and other accessibility technologies "to guide seniors and make the experience more natural," the company said.
Among the custom-built apps will be systems to help users remember to take medications, watch their diets, find help with grocery shopping and even locate job opportunities. IBM also plans to help with integration services and training for Japan Post Group employees.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said the Japan Post program offers great promise for the world's aging population. By 2050, according to estimates from the United Nations and the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 21 percent of the global population will be 65 or older, compared to 11.7 percent in 2013.
"This initiative has potential for global impact, as many countries face the challenge of supporting an aging population," Cook said.