The iPad Leads Apple to the Elderly

Hikosaburo Yasuda of Nakano, Japan, plans to buy an iPad to keep up with junior members in his computer club. "It's important to always try new things, otherwise you get left behind," he says.

Yasuda is 95 years old. He and his peers, looking for easier ways to browse the Web and send e-mail, represent a potentially lucrative market for Apple (AAPL)'s iPad. The company has sold 3.27 million iPads since its launch in April, but doesn't break down sales figures by customer age, making it impossible to know with certainty how many seniors are buying them. Anecdotal evidence suggests it's a hit with the elderly. Marti Weston of Arlington, Va., bought her father one for his 87th birthday in May. "This 'book-sized' pad has become my news and entertainment source," her father, the Reverend Elmo Pascale, raved in a comment on Weston's blog.

The iPad's intuitive interface makes it appealing to senior citizens around the world, says Takahiro Miura, a researcher at the University of Tokyo: "The iPad is a good tool for the elderly because it's very forgiving of mistakes." Miura's team uses computers to help train senior citizens to rejoin the workforce. "Unlike the PC, it doesn't require prior knowledge," he says.

James Cordwell, a technology analyst at Atlantic Equities in London, says the iPad's popularity with the elderly is helping Apple reach beyond its traditional base of younger customers. "Demographically, the world, especially in developed markets, is getting older, and it's probably where Apple is least penetrated," Cordwell says. Elderly users are "a key source of growth for them in the future." These buyers could also give Apple an advantage over Research In Motion (RIMM). Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), LG Electronics, Google (GOOG), and other companies expected to roll out tablets.

The elderly in Japan, who make up an estimated 22 percent of the population, may prove particularly receptive to the iPad. They spend more than any other group in the country except for those under 30, according to a report by Japan's Cabinet Office. Motoo Kitamura, 78, a former gas salesman, bought an iPad to help him communicate with his 2-year-old grandson and stave off dementia. "Trying new things like that is a good mental exercise," he says.

Toshihiro Okada, a 79-year-old retired architect, runs Yasuda's computer club, where he's called The Saint because he often bikes to members' homes to troubleshoot technical problems. "Seniors these days have the trifecta of time, money, and curiosity," says Okada. "The iPad is never out of my hands."

The bottom line: Apple is making inroads with a new group of consumers, the elderly, thanks in part to the intuitive design of its iPad.

With Anna Mukai and Arik Hesseldahl

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