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Apple and IBM's latest partnership is about helping Japanese seniors with iPads

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Apple, IBM, and Japan Post are teaming up for an ambitious project aimed at connecting Japanese seniors through customized iPad software. The project will employ iPad apps written by IBM and integrated into Japan Post's existing services, helping seniors coordinate services like household maintenance, medical services and caregiving. Japan Post is the country's largest postal delivery services, and also handles many basic caregiving services for seniors. The new apps will also integrate with existing Apple services like FaceTime. Japan Post CEO Taizo Nishimuro described the goal as "designing experiences that are easy to use for seniors, the kind of intuitive experience the iPad is famous for."

The project was announced at IBM's new headquarters in New York, in an event with Nishumuro, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and IBM President Ginni Rometty. Nishumuro said the initiative was focused on serving Japan's aging population. Nearly a quarter of Japan's population is over 65, and that percentage is expected to grow to 40 percent in the decades to come. "The issue is not unique to Japan," Nishumuro said. "Many more countries will be facing the same issue very soon."

"We will dramatically improve the lives of millions of people."

IBM began its partnership with Apple eight months ago as a certified developer for business-oriented software pitched at banks, telecoms and utilities. So far the partnership has spanned 22 apps, but the new project with Japan Post is arguably the most ambitious yet, integrating with a company with national scale to reach a uniquely challenging audience. Apple has long focused on accessibility, but those efforts have traditionally focused on vision, hearing or motor impairments.

It's also potentially a huge marketing opportunity for Apple, given Japan's large elderly population, but Cook insisted the effort was primarily about improving health. "You can see a lot of products that we've launched in the last year have been focused on health," Cook said. "We're very proud at Apple that we build products that change and enrich people's lives." He also described the new partnership as part of Apple's new interest in health, together with HealthKit, ResearchKit, and the Apple Watch health-tracking features. "What this is about is improving the quality of life, and there's arguably nothing more important than that," Cook said. "We will dramatically improve the lives of millions of people, and that at the end of the day is what this is about."

Cook also made a passing reference to the company's recent Apple Watch launch and subsequent shipping delays. "I can see some [Apple Watches] in the audience. Hopefully some of the others of you have them on order," Cook said to the audience. After a pause, he added, "I promise to get those to you as soon as possible."

Sean O'Kane contributed to this report.