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Why the over-50s are addicted to tablets

Grant Feller, director of GF-Media, which specialises in digital content for the over-50s, on why tablets are the most important gadget for older audiences.

Liberated: tablet devices are a hit with the over-50s

Liberated: tablet devices are a hit with the over-50s

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I lead a very 20th century life in the morning, well before work begins and the rest of the family ruin my peaceful breakfast. I read my papery newspapers, write notes with a pen and occasionally sketch – badly - the comings and goings in the back garden.

For 65% of the population – especially those who once felt technology was passing them by – the tablet has been a truly transformative tool

But everything I do in those 90 minutes relies on the most basic principle of cerebral consumption: we like to move our eyes side-to-side.

There’s something reassuring about going from left page to right page, we’re taught from a very young age to write in straight left-to-right lines (or the opposite way in some cultures), to artistically express ourselves in a similar fashion.

Our eyes don’t feel comfortable going up and down, the brain prefers lateral movement. It’s been pretty much that way for several million years. It’s not going to change any time soon.

Which is why the tablet device, for anyone over the age of 40, is the most important marketing gadget yet. Not the most ubiquitous or youth-friendly, that’s the phone. Nor perhaps the most powerful or industrious, that’ll be PCs and laptops. But for approximately 65% of the population – especially those who once felt technology was passing them by – it has been a truly transformative tool.

Why we're craving the tablets

And I have three pieces of evidence, all of which emerged in the last couple of weeks. First, Rupert Murdoch revealed that readers of The Times on tablet – typically aged 35-65 - stay with the publication longer than when in print.

In an interview with Fortune magazine, he said: "A third of our circulation is on a tablet. And people who read it on their tablet are spending 20% more time than if they’re reading the paper."

A third of The Times' circulation is on a tablet - and people who read it on their tablet are spending 20% more time than if they’re reading the paper

Its unique visual strength, ease of use and simplified nature of browsing between sections are no doubt some of the reasons. And of course its requirement of right-to-left and back again finger and eye movements, rather than random clicks and downward-vertical design.

Second, women’s clothing line Bonmarche – which specialises in catering for older customers - has recorded extraordinary sales figures, a 13.5% rise for the first quarter of 2014. This in the same period when rivals are recording ever-deepening losses.

But it’s online sales that are most revealing – they rocketed more than 70%. Bonmarche customers have embraced tablets like never before, say the company’s bosses who have dramatically increased their digital marketing budgets.

Customers hate "fiddly" phones and are nervous of doing their shopping on sometimes unwieldy desktop computers. However, tablets, in which they flick their fingers right to left to view potential purchases, have transformed their shopping experience.

And then came news from America. The hugely influential Pew Internet research company revealed that more over-55s own tablets than smartphones. http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/older-adults-and-technology-use/

This, it argued, is where the real battle for web commerce lies among an increasingly cash and time-rich audience. Not on televisions or mobiles, but tablets – iPads, Kindles and the like.

Tablets satisfy our innate eye and finger movements - an older audience has finally been given access to a technological revolution that they felt ignored them

And the fact that these devices satisfy our innate eye and finger movements, that they’re more suited to displaying left-to-right than up and down, that they are familiar in their old-fashioned simplicity, means an older audience has finally been given access to a technological revolution that they felt ignored them. It has liberated them.

They’re reading, buying and engaging – it’s no surprise, for instance, that the biggest growing audience on Facebook is the over-55s.

We always think that technology is primarily to be enjoyed by the generations most in awe of, and least intimidated by, "newness". Perhaps tablets are an exception to that rule – not just because they’re so simple to use and aesthetically satisfying but because they connect with the brain like no other device.

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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