Apple, IBM to bring iPads to 5 million Japanese seniors

Japan Post will handle managing the iPads and its employees will be trained on how to use the tablets

An initiative between Apple, IBM and Japan Post Holdings could put iPads in the hands of up to 5 million members of Japan's elderly population.

The iPads will run custom apps from IBM tailored to the needs of Japan's elderly, who make up about a quarter of the country's population, IBM said. The programs will remind people to take medication, offer diet and exercise information and connect them to services like grocery delivery, among other tasks. The tablets will also come with standard Apple software like FaceTime for communication, iTunes for organizing music and Photos for managing pictures.

Japan Post will manage the devices and its 400,000 employees will receive training from IBM on how to use them. Japan Post, a government-owned holding company that offers banking and insurance services in addition to handling postal operations, will begin testing the iPads in the second half of the year. Details on the size of the trial weren't provided.

The service will be expanded to include between 4 million and 5 million people by 2020, IBM said. The iPads will supplement Japan Post's Watch Over service where, for a monthly fee, postal employees check on elderly residents and relay information on their well-being to family members. Information wasn't provided on a possible fee increase as the iPads are rolled out.

Apple, IBM and Japan Post didn't offer financial information on the initiative, which was announced Thursday. It's unclear whether Japan Post is purchasing the iPads and whether the tablets will be sold to Japanese citizens. IBM and Apple didn't immediately reply to a request for comment and Japan Post couldn't be reached.

Last July IBM and Apple announced a partnership to work together on developing iOS apps for enterprises. Since then, the companies have come out with 22 mobile apps for the health care, financial and travel industries, but haven't disclosed if the arrangement has boosted revenue or iPad sales.

Apple CEO Tim Cook views the IBM tie-up as a way to revive sales of the tablet, which have slowed in recent quarters. Apple sold 12.6 million iPads in the first quarter of 2015, compared to 16.4 million in the year-ago quarter.

"The IBM partnership, I think, is in its early stages in terms of bearing fruit here, but everything I see, I like on it. I'm a big believer in the ability for iPad to play in a major way in enterprise," Cook said during Apple's second-quarter earnings call on Monday.

Cook has said IBM brings its experience working with enterprises, a market that has traditionally been cool to Apple's consumer-focused products, to the deal while Apple offers IBM its background in developing mobile devices.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'

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