Laurie Orlov who runs the excellent blog, Aging in Place Technology Watch, asked a good question last week: Why aren't seniors wowed by tablets?
Laurie's main interest was Apple iPads and the many Android copycat computer tablets that come with e-book readers but also the stand-alone e-readers such as the Kindle and the Nook.
As Laurie noted, according to Pew's recent survey, e-book reader and tablet ownership each nearly doubled over the recent holiday season from 10 to 19 percent. But – in a big exception – when broken down by age, ownership of tablets by people older than 65 increased from only five to seven percent.
Ownership of e-readers did better with the elder age group but only slightly, going from eight to 12 percent.
Laurie suspects that price may have a lot to do with elders' apparent rejection of these gadgets:
”...median income for women aged 65+ is $15,282,” she notes. “That's a barrier, as is broadband penetration (31%), enabling and potentially costly data plans. So those significant limiting factors are big deals.”
That makes sense as does Laurie's other suggestion – that elders are just too damned smart to jump for every new electronic gadget that comes along.
Generally, I do not see the need for a tablet computer. Certainly they are cool looking and fun to play with, pushing stuff around the screen with your fingers and all. But I mostly use my laptop not to play, but to write – email, blog posts, notes to myself, edit stories, personal business, etc. – and tablets have no keyboards. Well, not real ones you could actually use.
In fact, after you've spent $500 to $700 for an iPad, if you intend to write anything longer than a tweet, you need to purchase a holder to keep the iPad vertical on your desk and then add a stand-alone keyboard. You can see what I mean here.
That's a lot of extra moolah to get an already expensive gadget's functionality up to speed with what is included in the price of even the cheapest laptop.
E-book readers, however, are a different matter. At least, I think so. Let me tell you why I believe they should be uniquely valuable to elders.
As we get older, small text is difficult to read. Although some dead tree books are published in large-print editions, not all are, they seem to be fewer every year and they usually cost more. With an e-reader, the font can be increased to any size you need with the touch a button.
For the past few years, I've noticed that large books, those that are more than 150 pages or so, are too weighty for me to hold for as long as might want to read.
I've taken to resting them on a pillow I place on my lap. Kindle and Nook e-readers, however, weigh in at about 10 to 13 ounces. Easy to hold.
PRICE OF BOOKS
Although publishing companies sometimes set higher prices by two or three dollars, the largest number of e-books at Amazon sell for $9.99. In addition, there are thousands of out-of-copyright classics that cost nothing. I had a fine ol' time re-reading Sherlock Holmes – all the short stories and the four novels - for the first time since my 20s for free on my Kindle.
I have no experience with Barnes & Noble, but Amazon holds regular sales of best-selling e-books at lower prices for short periods of time. And increasing numbers of local libraries are lending electronic books for free.
On the theory that you never know when you'll be stuck somewhere waiting for someone or something, I do not leave home without a book. In the past, that was difficult when I was reading one of those five- or ten-pounders. Now I just drop the Kindle in my handbag and I'm good to go.
Some elders have had to give up driving. Others cannot walk or stand for as long as they once could. So as much fun as hanging out browsing a good bookstore can be, it's not necessarily easy for elders to do. E-books are now here to help.
They download over the web in under a minute. No shipping costs. No leaving home. Easy peasy for those with limited mobility.
There are fancy models of e-readers that also function as tablets and are nearly as expensive as Apple iPads. But if, like me, you only want the book reading function, Barnes & Noble is selling their Nook Simple Touch for $99; Amazon sells the Kindle Wi-Fi for $79.
Given all these reasons, I believe e-readers ought to be big sellers for old people and next holiday season, I am going to recommend them as good gifts for elders.
For those on severely limited incomes, a year's internet subscription could be included and/or a gift certificate for book purchases. And don't forget that, at Amazon, at least, it is now possible to purchase e-books to be sent electronically as gifts.
I also subscribe to newspapers and magazines on my Kindle which has sharply reduced the amount of paper needing to be hauled out to the recycle bin. Because I have the least expensive, black-and-white version, images don't show well or are often omitted. So if it is an art book you want or anything in which the images are crucial, you probably need the print edition. And, in fact, I make other distinctions about which books I purchase in print and which as e-books. The goal for me is not to eliminate print book editions, but to use the ease of the Kindle when that it what matters.
Of course, there are always the Luddites - elders among them - who will insist they only want to read "real" books. Fine. But in keeping with Laurie's good point that old people are too smart, too experienced to fall for every new useless doodad that comes along, we are also smart enough, I think, to be discerning of ones to embrace when the advantages improve our lives.
It seems obvious but nevertheless, one of the small thrills about my Kindle is that the device automatically opens a book to the last page read. And now I have downloaded Kindle for PC onto my laptop and the Kindle for Android app onto my smartphone. With one click of the mouse, I can sync all three so that no matter which device I'm using, I can pick up reading where I last left off.
Not that I do much reading on a the small phone screen – but it's there if I want.
So I am wondering: do you own an e-reader? Do you use it regularly? Do you like it? Why do you think e-readers have not sold well (so far) among elders? Any other thoughts about e-readers?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: The Way the Cookie Crumbles