October 9, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

As boomers go gray, will big money mean better tech?

BOSTON--With software pitches, robots and hands-on video game demonstrations, this year's national AARP convention more closely resembled a consumer electronics show than a meetup of retired people.

It's no secret that people over 50--particularly retirees--with their disposable income and leisure time, are a prime target for consumer goods.

In 2004, people age 50 and older spent, on average, 47.6 percent of their family budget on "nonessentials," according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor. And the number of retirees is growing as the large baby boomer population joins the group.

In July 2006, there were an estimated 89 million people age 50 and over in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But in the past that group, which traditionally might have had trouble programming a VCR, were of little interest to tech companies.

That's all changed. "This is the first tech-savvy retirement generation...Maybe they didn't grow up with it as a teen and in college, but they have been living with it for the past 15 years," said David Kelly, president and founder of Upside Research, a technology research company based in Newton, Mass.

Companies like Nintendo, Microsoft and others are targeting this lucrative market. For the first time, Nintendo had a booth at the national 2007 AARP conference in Boston, which took place in September. While Wii Fit was introduced at the E3 gaming conference in July, the AARP convention offered the first opportunity for the public to play and test the balance board controller that goes with it. Like Wii Sports, it offers interactive athletics and tracks progress, but the sports in Wii Fit include yoga, stretching, balance exercises and monitoring your body mass index.

Baby boomers will be the first test group for companies on how elderly people interact with digital technology, an important topic to study since, as the AARP likes to say, "100 percent of the population is aging." Today's Second Life "millennials" will someday be octogenarians using tech.

As for the upper end of the mature population, even someone over 70 has likely used a cell phone and has a DVD player instead of a VCR. Many use e-mail and other online services.

Images: Tech for the aging technocrat

In 2006, about 68 percent of people age 50-64 years used the Internet, compared to only about 31 percent in 1998. For the same time span, Internet usage increased from 12 to 53 percent among those age 65 to 74 and from 4 to 24 percent for those 74 years and older, according to a report from the AARP (PDF).

The long lines at the conference to play with Wii Fit and other Wii games, such as Flash Focus and Brain Age 2, showed there is a high level of interest among older people to at least try video games.

"Nintendo changed our company strategy about two years ago to try to go after what we considered an expanding audience. We'll of course still market to (people) under the age of 25, but as an industry it's getting stagnant. So we set off with the DS and Wii to go after expanding from the age of 25 up to 70," said George Harrison, senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications at Nintendo.

Products like that make perfect sense, according to William Gribbons, founder of the Design and Usability Center at Bentley College and director of its human factors and information design program.

CONTINUED: Avoiding the retirement home…
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3 comments

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Let me make this perfectly clear
"This is the first tech-savvy retirement generation...Maybe they didn't grow up with it as a teen and in college, but they have been living with it for the past 15 years," said David Kelley.

We didn't grow up with it because we *invented* it Mr Kelley . . . and have been living with it ever since. That's why we are so "tech-savvy"
Posted by Basticar (23 comments )
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Excellent Point.
Never thought about it that way, but you are absolutly right.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
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The Toy that 50+ Built But Didn't Get to Play with...until now
Did you guess what it is? It's the internet, and today the fastest growing demographic online is comprised of ages 50, and up.

eGenerations.com is my venture (also coming soon SeniorsGrandCentral.com) for this demographic, and unlike Eons and it's $32M in venture capital, eGenerations.com has experience a 1100% growth rate, and has Members in 46 different countries.

Over the past year I've become very intimate with this demographic, and discovered the same thing when I pose this question, "What would I be like I was 80..or 50..or 65?". The answer? The same!
Fun would still be..well..fun, and while my life stage may have progressed, I'd still generally be the same person, and desire many of the same things I do today. Like a fine wine, we enhance with age, but our cores (from what I've found) don't change much.

So what's my point? Old dogs, and new dogs still learn new tricks, and are seeking to take advantage of the wealth of possibility offered through technological means.

eGenerations.com - The Cadillac of Online Destinations for Ages 50, and Up

Nathaniel Adam Briggs, CEO/Founder, eGenerations.com
Posted by eGenerations (13 comments )
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