EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the December 2009 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.
Not long ago, the tech industry gave little thought to the senior market, a demographic once deemed too set in its ways to adopt the latest gee-whiz gadgetry. As the population ages, many companies are developing a variety of tech products and services for the 65-and-up crowd.
"It's what I would call an emerging market, probably akin in terms of evolution to the Internet in 1999," says Laurie Orlov, an industry analyst who writes "Aging In Place Technology Watch," a blog that covers senior technology. (Read it at www.ageinplacetech.com.) Here are some of our favorites.
Personal Computers for Neophytes
If you've never used a computer, tasks like surfing the Web, opening digital photos and sending e-mail can be difficult. Enter the Designed for Seniors GO Computer. Built by MyGait, this desktop machine is pricier than most home computers: $879, plus a $20 monthly service fee.
But the GO Computer's thoughtful design can benefit seniors who are not accustomed to using computers. A large "GO" button at the top of its screen provides easy access to popular features, including the Internet, e-mail and games. The "Zoom" feature magnifies screen text. The keyboard has large letters with high-contrast graphics to lessen eye strain.
Seniors provide the technical support. When you call for assistance, someone who is 55 and older will help resolve your issue. Jeff Hill, chief executive officer for MyGait, estimates nearly three-fourths of the support calls aren't related to technical problems. "Rather they're users seeking help with Google, or they have questions about using passwords on Web sites," he says.
The $20 monthly fee covers online file storage, protection against viruses, technical support and software updates. You'll have to supply your own Internet access, which costs $20 to $40 a month.
Ray Vigneault of Houston uses the GO Computer at Parkway Place, the senior community where he lives. The PC is "good for going online and communicating with people," says Vigneault, 79. Vigneault teaches a Tuesday afternoon class to show residents how to use the computer, which is located in the community's library. He recommends the machine for seniors who want to go online to read news, check e-mail and research topics on Google. (To order, go to www.thegocomputer.com or call 877-671-5846.)
Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard have teamed up to offer the HP SeniorPC, which is a more conventional computer with a higher upfront cost -- $1,075 to $1,165. On the plus side, there's no monthly fee other than Internet access. Available in laptop and desktop models, the SeniorPC includes an HP Deskjet printer and a few senior-oriented tools, including OnTimeRx, a program that reminds users to take their medications. (To order, go to www.enablemart.com and type "SeniorPC" in the search engine, or call 888-640-1999.)
Neither the GO Computer nor the SeniorPC uses a touch screen, which has become popular on handheld devices such as the Apple iPhone. According to Hill, a touch screen on a desktop computer requires the user to extend an arm for long periods of time, which can become uncomfortable. But if a touch screen sounds appealing, consider either an HP TouchSmart PC (www.hp.com/united-states/campaigns/touchsmart; 866-541-3513), which costs $800 and up, or an Asus EeeTop PC (www.asus.com), at $500 and up.
The Jitterbug J (www.jitterbug.com; 866-932-6598) is the latest Samsung no-frills cell phone for seniors. The Jitterbug J has a simple, ergonomic design with large, backlit numbers, a padded ear cushion and an audio volume that is louder than that of most cell phones.