Newest Entrant in Tablet Wars: AARP (Yes, AARP)

Peeved That Tech Giants Snub Over-50s, Organization Steps In

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Credit: AARP

AARP wants to go go toe-to-toe with Apple and Samsung.

After being snubbed by mainstream tablet makers (AARP wouldn't say which) "not interested" in its aged 50-and-older core demographic, the nonprofit decided to tackle the void it sees in the market. So the organization partnered with Intel for technology advice and Walmart for retail distribution and developed the RealPad, a tablet designed with its baby boomer and older audience in mind.

Today, AARP begins an aggressive marketing effort for the custom tablet, using national TV, print, digital and in-stores. The TV ads will run through December on network TV shows including NFL games, cable channels including USA, TNT and ESPN, and in syndication. Print ads will run in People magazine and The Washington Post.

The work, created by o2kl, New York, uses the tablet name and expands the "real" theme to real-life moments. Walmart will be the exclusive retailer, doing its own in-store marketing, through the end of the year. The device can also be purchased directly from AARP. The retail price is $189.

AARP said it's not a tech company, but felt it had no other choice. "We saw this need and decided if no one else would do it, then we will. We hope that in a year or two there are 20 competitors. That will mean we did our job," said Ann Marie Kilgallon, AARP director-corporate relationships.

One of the key differentiators of the RealPad is 24/7 customer service, including access to a live agent for the life of the device. A free one-year subscription to AARP is also included on the Wi-Fi Android device that is about the same size as an iPad Mini and has midrange technical specs. A simplified user interface designed by Intel includes larger icons, a "Quick Fix" tech problem-solving dashboard and more than 20 how-to video tutorials. Pre-loaded apps include those from Google, Skype, NBC, Kaplan University and AARP. AARP said the time to use out of the box is about 15 minutes.

"In our research, the No. 1 thing people wanted is to be able to call someone who can help them find answers," said Steve Cone, AARP exec VP-integrated value and service. "We've also discovered a lot of people who want to buy it as a holiday gift for mom or dad, but don't want to have to serve as their technical advisers."

The idea for RealPad started forming last year when CIO Terry Bradwell initiated a series of tech-learning seminars around the country, targeted at AARP members but open to all. More than 15,000 people attended the more than 300 sessions this year, but the flood of "digitally challenged" people surprised even AARP execs. Scores of people showed up with tablet computers still in the box.

"We didn't see any tablet on the market for the 70 million digitally shy consumers estimated by Pew [Research] and we wanted a better price point than was available on other tablets," Mr. Cone said. Almost half of people ages 30 to 49 own a tablet, but fewer than one in five (18%) people ages 65 and older own one, according to Pew. The 50-to-64-year-old group is better represented with 31% tablet ownership, but still lags the younger generations by double-digit percentages.

Pre-orders for the RealPad began in September with the device on shelves last week, and while AARP did not divulge sales figures, Mr. Cone said he'd like to see hundreds of thousands this year. He added that Walmart thinks the device could do much more than that.

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