Apple and IBM are teaming up to develop a modified version of the iPad for millions of elderly people in Japan, in a tie-up aimed at capturing a generation of “silver surfers” and boosting flagging sales of the tablet device.
The iPads will feature preloaded apps designed by IBM with simplified interfaces and larger text. They will include medication management tools, exercise and diet regimes, and a modified version of FaceTime so customers can speak to their families and caregivers.
The collaboration comes at a time when Apple is seeking new ways to revive iPad sales — its revenue from the device dropped 29 per cent in the most recent quarter — and many technology groups are trying to develop products for a rapidly ageing population.
Senior citizens make up roughly 25 per cent of Japan’s population, a proportion that is projected to rise to almost 40 per cent over the next 40 years, according to the Japanese ministry of health, and the same trend is occurring in most other developed countries, albeit at a slower place.
“Sooner or later every country is going to encounter the same issue,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said at a press conference. “Japan really respects its elderly and the wisdom of the elderly, so it’s no surprise that this initiative begins in Japan.”
Mr Cook said the modified iPad was part of Apple’s big push into healthcare and compared the launch to recent initiatives such as HealthKit, a platform for sharing information with medical professionals, and ResearchKit, which allows a person’s data to be used in scientific research.
Apple and IBM said they would work with Japan Post, which will buy the tablets in bulk and distribute them to its existing customers, either free of charge or for a small fee of about Y1,000 ($8) a month, according to a person briefed on the plans.
The Japanese postal and financial services group sells banking or life insurance products to almost all of the 33m senior citizens in the country. After launching a pilot scheme in the second half of the year, it said it expected to distribute the iPads to between 4m and 5m customers aged 65 and above by 2020.
Mr Cook said Apple and IBM would eventually expand the initiative to other countries, such as the US, but added that they would probably have to “cobble together partnerships” with lots of different companies rather than work with a single partner as they have with Japan Post.
The global population of over-60s is expected to more than double from 841m in 2013 to more than 2bn in 2050, according to the UN.
Ginni Rometty, IBM chief executive, acknowledged that some customers would be nervous about sharing medical data with their life insurance company, but said they would be able to opt to have their information used anonymously.
Soft iPad sales were the main weak spot when Apple announced earnings on Monday, although Japan was a rare bright spot. Mr Cook said then that Apple’s tablet, which saw a surge of initial popularity after it launched in 2010, has lately experienced “cannibalisation” by smartphones with larger screens, including its own iPhone 6 Plus, and by growth in its Mac personal computing line.
“At some point it will stabilise,” he said. “I’m not sure precisely when, but I’m pretty confident that it will . . . l believe the iPad is an extremely good business over the longer term.”
Alongside Japan, the iPad has also seen growth in China, where demand has been growing strongly across Apple’s product line-up.