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Apple and IBM Give iPads to Japan's Senior Citizens

The tech giants will use the tablets to help monitor the well-being of some five million people in Japan.

Courtesy of Apple/Paul Sakuma
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Computing giants IBM and Apple are teaming up to deliver as many as five million iPads to elderly people in Japan by the year 2020.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced the initiative, along with Taizo Nishimuro, CEO of Japan Post, that country’s postal service and its largest employer. The push is the result of an alliance the two companies struck last year to collaborate on selling iPhones and iPads to businesses and to create mobile applications.

The project will “dramatically improve the lives of millions of people,” Cook said at a press conference in New York.

The plan calls for IBM to create custom applications intended to help remind seniors to take their medication and to stick to diet and exercise regimens. The iPads will also offer access to social service agencies and help with shopping for groceries, along with standard apps like FaceTime and Messages and Mail for communicating and Photos and iCloud for sharing photos.

IBM will also furnish Japan Post with software and systems required to manage the devices as well as software for training the agency’s 400,000 employees in how to use and deploy the iPads. The postal service reaches every household in the country, and so for a small fee it offers a “Watch Over” service where mail carriers will check on elderly customers and report back on their well-being to family members. The service is popular in rural areas. The point of the iPad program is essentially to enhance that service.

The program will roll out in phases, starting with a small pilot beginning in the second half of this year and eventually expanding to as many as five million Japanese senior citizens by 2020. Senior citizens make up about 25 percent of Japan’s population, but that figure is expected to reach 40 percent over the course of the next 40 years.

“Many countries are talking about bending the cost curve of health,” Cook said. But while reducing health care costs is a worthy goal, “it’s not something that gets you really excited,” he said. “This is about improving the quality of life. There’s nothing more important than that.”

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