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Apple, IBM team up to make iPads designed for seniors

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Two of the biggest tech companies in world have joined forces to help improve the lives of seniors — with iPads.

At an event in New York Thursday morning, Apple and IBM announced they will deliver iPads with specially tailored apps for seniors. The apps connect elderly users with their families and serve three main functions — monitor their health, remind them of their medications and doctors’ appointments, and connect them to home care services.

The program will be piloted in Japan, in conjunction with Japan Post, a government-owned life insurance, banking and postal service.

The iPad is already the top-selling tablet in Japan, according to Apple. Japan Post will deliver the special iPads to seniors and help them set up and learn to use the devices. In addition, they will also provide a monthly check-in service for an additional fee.

“Together the three of us and our teams will dramatically improve the lives of millions of people, and that at the end of the day is what it’s all about,” Cook said. “Where Japan may be first, many others will follow.”

The new apps, built and powered by IBM, use machine-learning computer system Watson to learn and adapt to the ways elderly citizens communicate and use the app.

The apps have large buttons that are easy to read, and they have adjustable settings to help vision- and hearing-impaired users navigate the Web and other iPad apps. IBM’s apps are built on top of Apple’s existing accessibility features — large text, dictation, and Siri, which will read emails and websites.

Everything about Apple, Cook said, is about “helping people that are marginalized and empower them to do what everyone else can do.”

The program for seniors is an extension of IBM and Apple’s year-old partnership to create enterprise-level iPad apps for corporations. The two companies have already built 22 apps for 11 industries, and Cook said “the most significant app” will be the one for seniors.

That partnership, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said, was about “re-imagining work.” Today’s announcement is about “re-imagining life.”

Japan Post CEO Taizo Nishimuro said he hopes to deliver the special iPads to as many as 5 million families within the next five years. By 2050, 21% of the world’s population will be over the age of 65, but the problem is most “acute” in Japan, where nearly 40% of the population will be seniors.