Smartphones are everywhere -- good thing we don't need them for anything vital. The oldest baby boomer is now 68, the youngest is 50 (AARP entry level). By Social Security standards (age 62), movie ticket discounts (age 60), recommendations about investing that range from age 50+ to age 55+ , and lots of health advice all the way to 65+, that boomer is well on the way to being a senior. So what percentage of these folks have smartphones? First take a look at Pew-- where smartphone penetration in the 65+ age ranges seem to be around half. More smartphones are bought by better educated folks and those with higher incomes. Makes sense. But Pew Research lost interest in tracking boomer and senior adoption of smartphones. This past week, it was sad to see the departure of Susannah Fox of Pew Research, one of the long-time researchers (along with Lee Rainie) at Pew's tracking of technology. Change is also reflected in Pew's Internet Life material -- research strategists must think a goal has been met -- the surveys reveal lack of interest in adoption as a topic that merits frequent updates.
So how about those health apps? For boomers, not so fast. Nielsen took a look at this at the end of 2013 and discovered that adults age 55+ were using their phone for 22 hours per month -- and check out those top categories of use. Health (in any of its variants) was not on the list. We then turn to Deloitte. As they have observed, it is becoming harder and harder to buy a feature phone. (There were just 3 at the Verizon store a few weeks ago -- tucked toward the back.) So the gap on phone-type ownership will disappear by 2020, but will older adults just use them as feature phones? Do they have any apps downloaded (of the 2 million or so that are available?) The Deloitte prediction: "In 2014, a quarter of age 55+ smartphone owners may not download a single app." One assumes that means they use the ones that are sitting on the phone when it was acquired. With smartphone in hand, they can participate in our (smart) phone lives, futilely searching for that valuable experience which cannot yet be found.
Minimally viable product (MVP) -- does that sum up the 'health' app market? But if boomers tackled the app stores and added something or other to their phone, in the top app category list, so far they show no interest in health apps. But what IS a health app? Consensus seems to be that it is still early and it depends on what you mean by health. To date, it seems to be focused on fitness and weight tracking. Market forecasters see uptake as progressing, uh, one step at a time. Not to be confused with mHealth apps -- in the narrower definition, "mHealth is considered the sum of technology-based applications that allow a patient and a physician to clinically interact from different locations." And in case you were wondering, that narrower market has not taken off yet. Why? Probably because your doctor wants no part of it. Consider the substantial investment in mobile health, but the lack of clarity as to what it is or to the viability of a health app as a product. What if, as Lisa Suennen speculates, these apps may not be good enough in their first iteration to track your actual health status -- and for an inaccuracy example, see Samsung S Health.
Let's add Maximally Useful Product (MUP) -- for boomers to download. These are early, early days for utility -- there will have to be more ahead than this gargantuan library of little that is of real value. Those of us with addictions to smartphones love them for their portability, their easy access to the Internet, the ever-so-cute apps. Consider the camera, mirror, the flashlight, note-taking, GPS and turn-by-turn directions. Add Uber requests, idle Facebook scrolling, calorie counting, step-tracking -- and game playing (Oh and did I mention, that if absolutely necessary, these devices are also mediocre audio-quality phones?) But fundamentally, all of the apps flooding into the market are still, from an evolutionary standpoint, at the Pet Rock stage. Nice to haves, but not viable enough, not critical enough in the health-of-us scheme of things. (See abandonment of fitness gadgets). For our best health, boomers are wise to wait for the 2.0 versions of apps that wil be both minimally viable and maximally useful.