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Do Boomer Demographics Make a Tablet Mac Inevitable?

ModBook

Born in the early-middle of the Baby Boomer generation (1951), I’m one of the folks O’Reilly Radar’s Mark Sigall is talking about in a recent essay contending that an Apple (s aapl) assault on the tablet computer market is “inevitable,” since such a device would be so symbiotic for we Boomers, who, now aged 53-73, constitute a whopping 70M+ demographic cohort in the U.S.

Aging Baby Boomers

How so? For the same reasons that aging Boomers are unlikely to embrace the palm-sized iPhone en masse, Sigall suggests, observing that a bookish-sized tablet device — call it the Boomer Tablet — would be tailor-made for home Wi-Fi setups, obviating mobile access costs associated with the iPhone, which he says constitute a significant barrier for a generation programmed to keep mobile bills within a tight spending range. Good point. We Boomers missed the Great Depression, but enough of its residual trauma rubbed off on us in our formative years from our parents and grandparents that we’re inclined to balk and bridle at the extortionate highway robbery service fees cell and wireless Internet providers impose on smartphone users, leaving some of us bemused at younger generations’ seemingly passive willingness to cough up whatever is charged without very vigorous price resistance.

Diminished Motor Skills & Visual Acuity

Sigall says tablets are a shoo-in for Apple because a larger form-factor device can provide Boomers with a bigger viewing screen and a more forgiving keyboard to ease input. The generously sized multitouch input methods and shortcuts help us Boomers work around our diminishing motor skills and fading visual acuity, which make the concept of plugging away on tiny keys and peering into camera viewfinder-sized screens on mobile devices, like the iPhone and iPod touch, unappealing.

Indeed, I think a substantial factor in of the appeal of PC “netbooks,” compared with smartphones, is that while they’re still small and underpowered, they beat the whiz out of handheld devices for computer-type tasking. They actually have real keyboards that one can type on conventionally without the angularities of touchscreens that you have to squint at or view peering over your eyeglasses.

Decent-sized Displays and Real Keyboards

Pushing 58, I find my motor skills hanging in fairly well, albeit with more aches and pains than there used to be. My beef with the iPhone’s keyboard is not so much its size as it is me having stubbornly resisted getting bifocals for more than half a decade since my optometrist first recommended them. I find the compromises of surfing the web, watching movies and videos, or indeed doing much other than scrolling through menus on a tiny iPhone or iPod display distinctly off-putting. While I’m not personally smitten with the idea of tablet computers, a decent-sized display and real keyboard would make them much more attractive as Internet devices than pygmy-sized smartphones.

So, it makes sense to me. How about you? Especially if you’re a Boomer, would a tablet computer appeal more than a smartphone or iPod touch?

13 Responses to “Do Boomer Demographics Make a Tablet Mac Inevitable?”

  1. I think a tablet may be too cumbersome to catch on, and i’m not sure why Mac would be the only way to go. I haven’t tried a Mac yet, but I know that those who have them come to loathe PC’s. The only problem is that in my industry (home automation) most software is not compatable with Mac or Iphone until well after release. I also think that there will be dramatic changes in the interface, I just can’t see the size of a tablet being lugged around without being lost (like car keys and remote controls), forgotten or dropped. Typing is bad enough with a flat keyboard such as on a laptop, I couldn’t see typing with a virtual keyboard with any decent speed. I had a notebook that I typed so much on I wore off the little raised tabs on the F and G keys- typing by “home row” on that computer is difficult without those references which would be gone with a virtual keyboard. I think what will have to work will be some small phone sized device with speech recongition and the abiltiy to project the screen image on something handy- a wall or plug in accessory screen. I don’t have an uncle in R&D somewhere, but I do know that boomers probably won’t be happy with anything that bulky and difficult to interface with. That’s the opinion of a 1967 kid.

  2. Graham

    Some of the comments by the author also apply to the really young as well. I let my 3 and 5 year olds use my iPhone and the intuitive nature of the interface makes it extremely easy for them to use. In fact when my son (3) gets on my Macbook Pro he keeps touching the screen to try to swipe and tap to do things. He is able to much more easily manipulate things directly on the iPhone screen using touch than he is with either the touchpad or the mouse on the laptop.

    I really think that a touch/gesture based, larger sized screen with a more powerful version of the OS (with things like multitasking which the iPhone doesn’t support for 3rd party apps – boo!!!) would be an ideal platform for the whole family to use and I will almost certainly be buying one when/if Apple comes out with it.

  3. David Schwartz

    I’m too close to 67 to say that I’m still 66 and I’ve been encumbered with first reading glasses and now bifocals/Varilux lenses for 26 years – not to mention the loss of dexterity. Even so, you probably won’t be able to pry my iPhone out of my (I hope not too soon) cold dead hands unless, at that point it’s been replaced by who knows what.

    Same with my MBA. I love them both and I wouldn’t trade my Air for a tablet; what for? If I’m going to have to carry something of a tablet’s dimensions, why not have a real keyboard and a screen that’s not in the same plane as my typing surface?

    My questions aren’t totally retorical because, as soon as someone says that there will never be anything more attractive than the device or the moment, you know what happens next. But, until then, at least for me, the tablet is the worst of both worlds.

  4. Bernie

    I suppose I’m being picky, but your maths is about 10 years out. I believe the baby boom period was 1946 to 1965. That means that all boomers are now aged between 43 to 63. The second world war finished 64 years ago :)

    I’m now 52 (1956) and am really happy with my iPhone, albeit I need to use my reading glasses for email and the web. I like the fact that I can slip it into my pocket and that it handles most things. I don’t know how useful a tablet would be …. less so than my laptop, yet too big to be truly portable. A bit of a niche product me thinks. Possibly great for media and games though.

  5. Hobbes Doo

    I think many people (myself included) are craving an offer from Apple to bridge the gap between an iPhone and a laptop. I find the iPhone a great device, but I keep wishing the screen was a bit bigger. I have a Mac laptop as well, but I can’t really take it everywhere due to its size.

    I’ll be buying a Mac tablet as soon as one is available.

  6. I was born in the late 60’s and my eyes need reading glasses to view any web content on the iPhone. A netbook is too big to be a go everywhere with you device, but the iPhone screen is just too small. I think Apple will find a way to bridge that gap and the device will be so useful that people will find ways of carrying it around even though it’ll be too big to fit in a shirt pocket. The key will be making it big enough for aging eyes, while making it small enough to fit in almost any purse. For guys who once carried “brick” cell phones an iPhone that’s twice the size of the current one will seem like a holster full of air.

  7. A point of clarification: The “baby boom” era began in 1946 when WW II had ended in both theaters and our servicemen came home and got married and bought homes under generous GI Bill financing. They also began making babies. Those of us born in the early 40s are known as “war babies” and are no part of the baby boom era.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts on this as well as those mentioned in the linked essay. As others have indicated, I, too, would likely buy an Apple tablet.

    However, it should be noted that there is already a device available that is close to being a true tablet for the apple: The Axiotron Modbook (see http://www.axiotron.com/index.php?id=modbook). Certainly it lacks iPhone-type touchscreen and gestures but it is available now and it is a Mac through and through. The bonus is that if you have one of several recent MacBooks, you can send them in and get them modified for about $1200. I’ve got a 13″ white Macbook that I’m seriously thinking of modding.

    I have a friend who does tech support from his gazebo (200′ from his house) and uses a Modbook. He got a $40 handwriting recognition program to go with it and to watch him work is a pure pleasure. While I’m not a bad typist, my fingers don’t always do what my brain is telling them to do but when I’m writing longhand, I make very few mistakes.

    Of course, this is no bargain basement el cheapo Asus but then I’d never expect an Apple netbook to cost less than a grand.

  8. spencercal

    well that may be true in many cases, but not quite so generalized. I do think that we are seeing more people of older generations that are grasping new technologies, and maybe a tablet would be more tempting to them for the above reasons. If all said is true though, then my grandma must be an exception. She is about to turn 80, she DID live through the depression, and yet she loves her iPod Touch. But to be fair it’s probaby cuz she has always kept up with technology. she has always had the newest mac laptops and for many years used various palm pilot models until now where her iPod Touch has become her new mobile device.

  9. Gazoobee

    I tend to agree also even though my eyes are still good and I find typing or watching podcasts on the iPhone just fine. I think the author is really pushing the generalities when he also implies that all boomers are cheap, but in general it’s a good argument.

    I would add another one, which is that a lot of us who were kids in the late 60s and early 70s remember how hopeful the future was back then and growing up on the Jetsons and Star Trek TOS most of us probably felt like bubble cars and tricorders were just around the corner. I know I did, and have been waiting for some of the devices that are just coming out now, for pretty much all my life.

    I find that like myself, people in our generational group are disproportionately represented in the ranks of mobile device bearers. If I run into someone like me who has at one point owned every type of Palm, WinCE, and Pocket PC device there is, they are usually the same age as me. As a writer, I would buy a tablet in a heartbeat.

  10. Born in 1943, I know exactly what you are saying about the attractiveness of a larger screen. I will buy an Apple tablet if they offer one.

  11. That’s an interesting line of thought to follow, but if it were true, wouldn’t we already find boomers getting tablet PCs? Wouldn’t that market have not failed to materialize in any substantive way?

    Or are you suggesting that Boomers would like Apple’s (hypothetical, mystical, probably completely imaginary) tablet only because of a form factor + the big buttons of the iPhone OS?