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Technology leapfrogging: How the cloud, tablets and phablets advance tech adoption

Jen A. Miller | July 24, 2014
Technology upgrades don't have to be incremental journeys from version 1.0 to 2.0. Here are three examples of innovations that have let specific demographic groups ‘leapfrog’ standard tech for something that better suits their needs.

Senior Citizens Skip PCs and Smartphones

In the United States, 59 percent of adults 65 and older go online, according to the Pew Research Center. That percentage is lower than it is for all adults (86 percent), but it's six percentage points higher than 2013 and four times as many as in 2000 (14 percent).

Seniors aren't going online the same ways as the younger U.S. population, though. Eighteen percent of seniors own a tablet, e-book reader or smartphone. However, the proportion of older adults who own either a tablet or an e-reader is 27 percent. For all adults, the reverse is true they're more likely to own a smartphone than a tablet or e-reader.

Tablets appeal to seniors for many reasons, says Janel Wait, vice president of digital services for GlynnDevins, a senior living marketing and advertising agency. In the last three years, visits to the agency's site from different types of devices have changed rapidly. Mobile visits now account for up to 50 percent of website visits, with the iPad ranking as the top device.

One factor that makes tablets popular with seniors: Weight. "The portability and light weight allows them to take [a tablet] with them wherever they are," Wait says. "In [senior] communities, residents are active people. They like the ability to take a tablet with them wherever they go."

Several other tablet features explain why seniors prefer the devices:

  • The tablet's intuitive user interface makes it easy to set up and use, especially for adults who didn't grow up and work in a computing world.
  • For anyone with impaired vision, text on a tablet screen is easier to read than a smartphone screen.
  • Likewise, tablets are easier to hold and handle for users with dexterity issues than smaller smartphones.
  • Users can also easily resize items on a tablet. Some residents in communities GlynnDevins serves tell Wait that tablets let them "view [digital] pictures with the crispness of photos."

Overall, tablets serve as a simple computing solution for those who don't need a lot of computing power. Today's seniors book travel, play games, read horoscopes, research history and genealogy, look at stocks, watch videos, and take and share pictures. They also keep in touch with children and grandchildren through email and Facebook, Wait says. That all can be difficult to do on a smartphone, but it doesn't require the computing power of a laptop, either.

There's one added benefit: A recent University of Texas study found that tablet computer use may help seniors stay mentally sharp.

Developing Nations Skip Smartphones

In developing countries, it's not the tablet but the "phablet" that's taking off, says David Sovie, managing director of Accenture Communications' Media and Technology Group. (This is the second of the technology leapfrogging trends in the developing world; in the late 2000s, consumers skipped the personal computer en masse, opting instead to buy a mobile phone.)


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