Around the world populations are getting older. In the United States alone 70 million post-World War II baby boomers will be retired by 2029. There isn’t any way we will be able to build enough retirement homes or assisted living facilities to house everyone who needs a place to live, so “aging in place” with seniors staying in their own homes will be critical (see my post The Internet and a Graying World).
I’ve written before about the need for connected devices to keep seniors connected and not isolated (see: Elderly Need Super-Simple, Phone-like Skype). A commenter on a recent post brought awareness to me about a new startup with a tablet called Claris Companion, I checked it out and was initially very enthused!
The Claris Companion is a tablet device for seniors which can be managed by family members and is a simple device for seniors to use with a lot of great features. They say the average age of their users is 86 years old with “little or no computer experience” and I buy that premise. I can attest to the fact that, in my experience, it is extremely rare to find anyone tech-savvy over the age of 65.
But is this the right device to get for your senior parent or older loved one?
Looking at their features made me realize they were right in the sweet-spot of what seniors need in a simple, easy-to-use, always on and always connected device.
But looking at all of those features: Email and Text Messages; Photos; Medication Reminders; Calendar; Web Browsing; Check-in and more; are key ones all seniors need, especially if they’re living at home alone.
GREAT CONCEPT. TOO EXPENSIVE
I was very enthusiastic until I got to the store.
HARDWARE: A Wifi version is $549 *plus* $39 per month. A 4G version costs $649 *plus* $49 per month. (They are also available on contract for $99 and $199 respectively plus an additional $20 per month). Since Claris’ specifications are very similar to the slightly more powerful Toshiba Excite™ Pure Tablet shown here for $299.99, those prices seem very high. The bamboo wood case can’t cost them $249, even with the charger built in to the stand, and the Claris interface and functionality isn’t terribly sophisticated (especially with other apps I’ve witnessed developed right here in Minnesota and priced significantly less than this one!).
CONNECTIVITY: The other item was the requirement for a fairly high speed video connection with Wifi in the senior’s home or a connection to a mobile network. Since most internet service providers have programs for lighter use, fixed income seniors (or lower income families) this shouldn’t be much of a barrier for the positive payback from a device like this one but would add $15-$50 per month depending on connection speed.
The 4G mobile data connection comes with the higher priced version and plan. My experience has also been that in-home mobile connections are a bit trickier to have work well and also are limited due to data plan costs.
They position their monthly fees this way: “Unlike other “free” services, Claris Companion doesn’t display advertising or sell your loved one’s personal information. We provide a personal, safe, and secure service. We also include active monitoring of the device, text messaging, technical support, and free upgrades to new features. Your small monthly subscription fee helps us protect your loved one online and provides you with peace of mind.“
No question there is a cost to notifications (e.g., with Twilio), ensure that servers are running and support is available, but I still submit that their pricing is too high. Read their Why Companion? page and FAQs to see their position on why this is the package to get.
I’m not sure a dedicated device like the Claris Companion is either cost-effective or necessary. I also don’t like depending upon a company I’ve never heard of before for photos, critical/private/secure messaging.
It is too easy for developers to make a singular application like EasyFamilyApps did with their AppSuite for $9.99 (iPad, Android, Windows/Mac). Though I don’t like AppSuite’s jumping out to use applications on a tablet like Skype (it’s too confusing for seniors to figure out how to get back), the concept of an integrated, holistic app is a good one.
With technologies like WebRTC coming online quickly—and both iPad and Android tablets easy to place in to kiosk mode to keep one app running all the time like AppSuite—it’s easy to see that competition will abound in the standalone tablet space for integrated apps for seniors.
Since we’re talking about alternatives, what about using an under $300 Chromebook and deliver applications in a web browser? Or for that matter doing the same thing in a web browser that IS full screen? I don’t think we’ve seen the end of innovation in this space yet!
Here are some links I found which you might find useful: