Japan's seniors to get tech-savvy with free iPads

TOKYO (AFP) - Millions of Japanese seniors could receive iPads under a programme to supply the elderly with specially equipped tablets that remind them when to take medicine and advise where to find community support services.

A trial programme announced by Japan Post, IBM and Apple, will see 1,000 seniors given iPads free-of-charge for six months starting from October, Japan Post said Friday.

If successful, that distribution could be increased to five million by 2020, according to Apple.

Currently Japan Post provides a 1,000 yen (S$11.06) monthly service, dubbed "Watch Over", whereby postal workers check in on elderly customers and report back to relatives about their well-being.

"We will start a trial service with some 1,000 iPads custom-made for the elderly, using our existing Watch Over service," a Japan Post spokesman told AFP Friday.

It was unclear if users would later be charged for the devices.

On Thursday, Apple called the service "a first-of-its kind initiative aimed at improving the quality of life for millions of Japanese senior citizens".

"(The programme) will deliver iPads with IBM-developed apps and analytics to connect millions of seniors with services, healthcare, community and their families," the US tech giant said in a statement.

Around a quarter of Japan's 127-million population is aged 65 or over, a result of low birth rates over the last few decades and no significant immigration.

The proportion is expected to grow to around 40 percent in a few decades and products targeting seniors are seen as a significant growth market.

Japan's vast postal system, little known abroad, sits on assets worth up to 14 trillion yen and many of the country's swelling number of elderly rely on it to receive their pension payments.

The company - which is on track for multi-billion-dollar share listing in Tokyo later this year - has long served as an insurer and bank, in addition to delivering letters and parcels to even to the most remote villages.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.