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Baby Boomers and Apps

Apps are on their way to becoming mainstream for the baby boomer market. What is the telltale sign? AARP, this nation’s largest membership organization for people over 50, just launched apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The AARP aap provides access to AARP articles, videos and membership benefit information.

No one has ever accused AARP of being a cutting-edge organization. AARP is heavily market research driven. If AARP has found that its members want smart phone apps, then the widespread adoption of apps on mobile devices by boomers is on its way.

Admittedly, a general perception does exist that boomers, as a broad segment (born 1946-1964), have been slower than younger people to embrace and adopt new technologies. A recent study, however, shows that boomers don’t have an aversion to technology.

An article in AdAge reveals that boomers are spending more money than any other demographic on electronics. According to Patricia McDonough, senior VP-analysis at Nielsen Co., “It’s actually a myth that baby boomers aren’t into technology. They represent 25% of the population, but they consume 40% [in total dollars spent] of it.”

Where do mobile devices fit in? Let’s consider cell phone usage as a precursor to smart phone adoption. Boomers have unquestionably incorporated cell phones into their daily lives. Forrester Research found that 84% of young boomers ages 45 to 54, and 80% of older boomers ages 55 to 64, own cell phones. The cell phone has become a critical utility, with 50% of baby boomers keeping their cell phones at arm’s length when they go to sleep.

The transition to the smart phone by boomers is underway, but the numbers are not earth shattering. A study conducted in March 2010 found that 21% of smart phone owners were baby boomers. Adoption has likely climbed over the past seven months with the introduction of many new smart mobile devices. For those people who already own smart phones, apps are becoming increasingly popular. This is especially true of iPhone users. Nielsen reported in September that smart phone owners have an average of 27 apps, up from 22 apps last December, with the typical Apple Inc. iPhone owner having 41 apps.

The iPad’s immensely successful spring launch made it the most quickly adopted non-phone electronic product ever and added fuel to the app fire. Presumably the iPad phenomenon is having a spillover effect on smart phone sales, while  it also dramatically expands the base of app users. General speculation is that a healthy percentage of iPad buyers are baby boomers, although I could not locate any public data that supports or refutes this assumption.

What does all this mean for marketers who are considering mobile marketing as a way to reach baby boomers? An app for a smart phone or template computer is a viable way to reach these consumers. However, unless the target audience is strictly comprised of earlier adopters, these solutions should be a component of a larger integrated campaign. The market is moving towards broad adoption of smart mobile devices, but is not there yet, even if AARP is.

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