Maybe that is too much to expect of an industry that has spent the last 15 years filling just about every house and car in America with smartphones, flat-screen TVs, video game consoles, satellite radios, laptops, tablets and high-tech headphones.
If CES didn’t offer breakthrough technology, it did offer some innovative products for consumers who aren’t usually identified as the important electronics customer they represent: yes, Boomers, and every other person over 45 who may be the secret to the growth of CES and the industry it represents.
On one side of Samsung’s giant booth displaying “bendable” television screens (a sign that TVs may have innovated beyond consumer interest) were home appliances illustrating a creative sensitivity to the needs of aging consumers, whether Samsung knows it or not.
Samsung’s four-door refrigerator is customizable by section, allowing homeowners to change the way its space is used – something of special value for Boomers whose nest is sometimes empty, but sometimes full of adult children, grandchildren and aging parents. Moving away from one product designed for one customer (the growing family at home) suggests that Samsung is paying attention to the aging population and the alternate ways that homes and families operate today. Samsung’s washing machine also features a drum that is wider but also shallower, making it easier to access and lift heavy clothes out of. And Samsung’s lower freezers also feature an easy-open door handle, which doesn’t require a back-wrenching yank to get at your ice cream for dessert.
Boomers also represent the biggest market in second homes and home renovations, and a number of home entertainment products are making it easier to enjoy these homes without unnecessary hassles. One of them came from Soundcast Speakers, a company whose high-quality portable speakers connect by wifi or Bluetooth to your source of music, whatever it may be. A home-renovator can now spare herself the investment in a high-maintenance, hard-wired sound system by connecting her iPhone with one of Soundcast’s lightweight “Melody” speakers, which can be used indoors or outdoors. Soundcast’s CEO Mike Weaver understands that loudspeakers play a role for many consumers who aren’t gear-heads but still want to enjoy music, and share it with their friends.
Siemens: Hearing aids and “gateway” appliances
I saw unexpected innovations even in a quintessential Boomer-oriented category like hearing aids.
Eric Branda, an audiologist at Siemens, the leading brand and researcher in this space, showed me a new interfacing device that Siemens calls the miniTek.
A smaller-than-smartphone device that allows its user to control the sound that comes from other devices, the miniTek even has a microphone that you can talk into. And you can control it through an app. If you separate it from the hearing aid itself, I could see the miniTek serving as a “gateway” device to hearing aids for Boomers, who often wait a decade before buying the hearings aids they need.
While a number of companies featured GPS trackers for children, not many are connecting them to a fast-growing market in which Boomers play a big role: pets. But Swedish company Trax is promoting its small, real-time GPS tracker for pets as well as children. Trax was the first GPS product to raise money on Kickstart, and I predict that its marketing insights will capture interest from Boomers, who spend more money than anyone to achieve the pet owner’s peace-of-mind.
Boomers: The unintended consequences of innovation?
Most consumer electronics still say that they are chasing the elusive Millennials, whose lives are now chock-full of the consumer electronics their Boomer parents have purchased for them. But when you look at the actual work and new products those same companies are offering, they seem to be recognizing the genuine needs of aging consumers, who may hold the key to their industry’s future.
[This post was originally published on MediaPost.]