Apple, IBM Bring Tech to the Rescue for Japan’s Seniors

Apple and IBM last week announced an initiative with Japan Post Group to provide seniors in Japan with iPads preloaded with apps and analytics designed to improve their quality of life.

Japan Post Group will launch a pilot service later this year and expand it incrementally over time, to cover between 4 million and 5 million customers by 2020.

This is one of several undertakings to deal with aging in Japan. Twenty-five percent of the country’s population, 35 million people, are seniors. That percentage is expected to increase to 40 percent within the next 40 years.

The iPads provided will have IBM-created reminders and alerts about medications, exercise and diet, as well as the usual iOS apps including FaceTime, Messages, Mail, Photos,and iCloud Photo Sharing. They will run iOS 8.

They will have settings for low vision and hearing-impaired users.

The iPads also will provide direct access to community activities and supporting services such as grocery shopping and job matching, according to IBM and Apple.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Japan Post pretty much connects with every Japanese resident through its 24,000 post offices nationwide. It already offers a “Watch Over” service: Mail carriers will check in on elderly customers and keep people posted about their relatives’ well-being for a monthly fee.

Further, Japan “has been aggressive in building out its wired and wireless Internet infrastructure, meaning that the IBM/Apple devices should be supportable most anywhere,” noted Charles King, principal at Pund-IT Research.

“That’s certainly not the case in the U.S., where rural populations remain second-class citizens insofar as Internet access goes,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Learning From Tokyo

The program is attainable without needing the development of significant new technologies, said Jonathan Collins, a principal analyst at ABI Research.

“The issue is primarily one of funding and commitment, and the scale to bring in additional partners,” he told the E-Commerce Times. Japan has the “willingness to adopt new technology to help secure progress.”

Among other endeavors, for the past 12 years,Japan has been working on a humanoid robots project to help tackle the problem of its aging population and cope with national disasters.

The Apple-IBM-Japan Post collaboration could boost various smaller systems being developed to tackle the problems of the aging, and could help spur wider adoption of such programs, Collins suggested. However, “healthcare solutions in one nation are not usually easily replicated in others.”

What’s in It for Apple and IBM?

Apple recently launched Healthkit and ResearchKit, and it “has a new sales focus on Healthcare for devices,” noted Greg Caressi, SVP for healthcare and life sciences at Frost & Sullivan.

IBM acquired two connected health companies in April — Phytel and Explorys — and “launched Watson Health as a new business focus, consolidating their healthcare-focused assets, with new assets that are cloud-based and have a healthcare-provider focus,” he pointed out.

The Japan Post project “meets the target for Apple of more devices and value delivery to consumers in their daily lives outside of healthcare settings,” Caressi told the E-Commerce Times. For IBM, “the value delivery is in system integration support,” and in serving as “a test bed for creating value to the healthcare system and providers through medication adherence and tracking activity, diet and so on.”

Other Possible Players

Expect more action in the healthcare field, suggested Pund-IT’s King.

“Google and its partners are well positioned to develop similar services, especially Samsung in South Korea,” he pointed out. Microsoft “could pursue its own course, but its weakness in wireless market share would make it a tough sell in some cases.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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