MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
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BLOCK: It's time now for our weekly technology segment, All Tech Considered. Consumer electronics is usually all about catering to the young and hip. But this year at the industry's big showcase, the Consumer Electronics Show, there was a spotlight on the market for seniors. The show ended yesterday, and NPR's Laura Sydell is just back. And Laura, tell us about this new focus on seniors. What's going on?
LAURA SYDELL: Well, you know, at a time when consumer electronic companies pretty much like everybody else are facing a shrinking market, they see aging baby boomers and they see a big market. So this year for the first time they set aside an area of the show floor for technology that caters to older people, and I went along to check it out.
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SYDELL: Nothing unusual about a man in a suit trying to sell a computer game at the Consumer Electronics Show. But Dan Mitchell, CEO of Dacom, says this isn't really a typical game. It's for people over 60 who want to keep their minds alert and avoid dementia. So, no music from the latest Coldplay album.
Mr. DAN MITCHELL (CEO, Dacom): We have movie clips and music and images all from the period of time when these people were younger.
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SYDELL: In one game, players watch a scene from a movie with Jimmy Stewart and they're asked to remember details.
Mr. MITCHELL: How many people did Jimmy Stewart greet in this scene?
SYDELL: In one way or another, most of what is on the CES show floor for seniors is related to health or its deterioration.
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Automated Voice: Twenty-one hours, 18 minutes till your next dose.
SYDELL: This is a talking pillbox. And if the patient, say, your elderly grandmother, fails to take her pills, it will send you a notification.
Mr. JERRY HAHN (MedSignals): And you would be able to call your grandmother, for instance, that's living in Florida and you're in New Jersey, and you can call her and find out what the problem is.
SYDELL: Jerry Hahn is selling this pillbox for MedSignals. Hahn says they're also working on alerts that will tell a patient when to take their blood pressure or check their weight or blood glucose. Larger companies like Microsoft are also trying to spin their products to make them more appealing to seniors.
Mr. DANIEL HUBELL (Technical Evangelist, Microsoft): So when I push the little key that looks like the Windows logo and the plus button, you'll see that I'm actually just zooming in the screen.
SYDELL: Daniel Hubell is one of Microsoft's technical evangelists. He's showing Windows software that has the ability to zoom in and make images and words larger and easier to read. Mary Furlong who consults with tech companies on the elderly market points out that there are 78 million boomers in the U.S. and 450 million worldwide.
Ms. MARY FURLONG (Tech Consultant): Every dissonance of aging is a market opportunity. So when the boomers turned 40, Nordstrom's started having designer glasses. And we started seeing, well, maybe I'll take a computer with a little bit bigger screen.
SYDELL: OK, that was Mary Furlong. She's a tech consultant to companies who want to reach out to the elderly market. Now, did you hear what she said? She said, every dissonance of aging is a marketing opportunity.
BLOCK: Yeah, that's some phrase, dissonance of aging.
SYDELL: I know. And I think it's important to remember that phrase because I think people have to be a little bit skeptical about this stuff, too. Although some of the products are good, the evidence that playing a video game is actually going to ward off dementia is not exactly conclusive. So, the only thing that is conclusive is that it's going to make you better at the game, and that's about it.
BLOCK: Right, and they think there's an avid market out there. Laura, what else caught your eye, or ear maybe, at the electronic show?
SYDELL: One thing I really loved was there was this mat, and you plug the mat in, and you can drop your cell phone or your BlackBerry or your laptop on it. It's called a Power Mat, and it costs about $100, and it will recharge all of these things for you.
BLOCK: How does that work?
SYDELL: Well, it's something called magnetic induction. And I'm not a physicist, so I can't actually fully explain how that works. But you just put a little - there's a little thing you put on the back of it, a little pad, and you just drop your stuff down, and it charges it. It's kind of amazing. Another cool thing I saw, which a lot of people might like, you know how long it takes to boot up your computer. It can drive you...
SYDELL: Absolutely crazy. Well, this will allow you access. It's called Hyperspace, and it'll actually allow you access to certain Web programs and things like that while your Windows is taking forever to boot up. So in this case, you can do IM, you can browse the Web, you can do all that within like, you know, 30 seconds, as opposed to waiting there for two minutes. And that one's a - it's a downloadable subscription model, so you have to pay, unfortunately, like 40 or 60 bucks a year.
BLOCK: Laura, you've been going to these electronic shows for a long time. Did you see really obvious signs of what's going on in the economy and the downturn that we've been seeing all over the place?
SYDELL: Yes. There were definitely fewer people this year. I mean, the lines were shorter, and there wasn't as much emphasis on some of the more expensive products. You know, every year I've been going, there's always a big deal about, this is the biggest TV. Last year I think it had reached 150 inches, so they had 150-inch plasma TV. This year, I didn't see them talking about the big TVs, you know. So you definitely felt the difference. The economy was there. Still, as you heard, there was still a lot of innovation and, I think, a sense that people need the technology and there's all kinds of interesting things developing.
BLOCK: OK, Laura. Thanks so much.
SYDELL: You're quite welcome.
BLOCK: It's NPR's Laura Sydell just back from Las Vegas and the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Also be sure to tune in next Monday when we check in with the big cell phone carriers here in the nation's capital as they prepare for what could be one of the busiest minutes of cell phone use ever - when President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office and the many thousands of people watching on the National Mall use their phones to mark the moment.