We\u2019ve all heard the promises about how the Internet of Things (IoT) is perfectly positioned to provide healthcare, entertainment and a wide variety of other services to the aging populations of many industrialized nations. The need is real because the population of countries like Japan, Italy, Greece, and Germany are getting older fast, resulting in a dearth of youngsters able (and willing, of course) to take care of their parents\u2019 generation.\nThe idea \u2014 bolstered by a European Commission on the topic \u2014 is that autonomous devices, robots, built-in sensors, medical and fitness wearables, voice-activated assistants, specially tuned smart homes, and other IoT innovations will fill in the gaps, helping meet the needs of seniors without requiring legions of younger workers. But when I saw a recent CNBC story about Google\u2019s Nest home automation unit exploring the senior citizen market, it made me laugh out loud.\n\nSeniors find software bugs in places you never knew existed\nI\u2019m not so young anymore, which means that my parents, along with those of many of my family and friends, are now deep into their golden years. While many of them remain sharp as a tack, others have increasing trouble navigating their daily tasks. And while many of them rely on technology to stay in touch with their far-flung social networks, this is far from a seamless process.\nEven seniors who retain all their faculties find themselves continually frustrated by confusing, hard-to-decipher user interfaces, and complex, multi-stage installation and operation procedures. Stiff, ill-placed keys and buttons confound arthritic fingers, super-sensitive touchscreens invite mistakes, while instructions in tiny type make it hard for aging eyes to see what\u2019s going on.\nThe result is that seniors often end up navigating to obscure corners of the user interface, with no idea how they got there, having made changes that even skilled tech-support technicians may be unable to track down and reverse. (And let\u2019s face it, we\u2019re not usually talking about support professionals, here. In real life, tech support typically means patience-challenged grandkids.) It doesn\u2019t help that the person with the issue may not fully understand the terminology they need to explain the problem.\nEven when they are able to use an IoT device, they often rely on few, easily reached features, eschewing anything \u2014 no matter how potentially valuable \u2014 buried in a menu or that requires a multi-step process to access. And once they do figure out how to operate something they find useful, unless it becomes a regular habit, they may have to relearn everything every time they try it. I\u2019ve seen elderly users write paper notes on how to use note-taking software.\nNo matter how simple it may seem to speak to an Amazon Echo: \u201cAlexa, play some classical music,\u201d it often turns out to be more complicated than that. What if you can\u2019t remember the name of the song you want to hear? Alexa and her screenless ilk don\u2019t make it easy to thumb through your CD or vinyl collection for inspiration. And if something goes wrong with the connection, troubleshooting a voice-activated device can quickly become a Kafka-esque ordeal.\nA new definition of 'easy to use'\nSo, here\u2019s the thing: If we\u2019re counting on the seniors themselves to figure out how to use this technology, it has to be dramatically easier to learn and use than anything I\u2019ve seen.\nOn the other hand, if the IoT can function on its own or if healthcare professionals, caregivers, and other service providers can use the technology to extend their reach, this could actually bring real value. Nest is reportedly approaching senior centers to test ideas such as using motion sensors to automatically turn on a light to help people find the bathroom in the middle of the night, for example. And IoT monitors could alert caregivers of special needs in real time.\nOtherwise, forget it. No matter how loudly the vendors claim their product is different, and so simple anyone could use it, it probably isn\u2019t. The IoT for seniors could easily end up causing more frustration and alienation than it alleviates, soaking up more caregiver time than it saves. Essential elder care can\u2019t be dependent on users having exceptional skills in order to take advantage of it, but it also can\u2019t condescend to its user base \u2014 the goal is to make people feel better, not worse.\nIt\u2019s not their fault, it\u2019s yours\nTo be perfectly clear, none of this is the fault of the seniors. This is all about how devilishly difficult it is to design a truly intuitive user interface that doesn\u2019t assume a vast amount of contextual knowledge. That problem doesn\u2019t go away just because your end user demographic has more experience than most.\nOne possible solution might be to rely on skeuomorphic interfaces that mimic and leverage familiar objects in the real world. If an IoT vendor is building a smart pillbox, it might as well look like the standard day-of-the-week pillboxes many people use to sort their medications. Some new Jetsons-style design might wow the millennial designers, but could cause problems if Aunt May can\u2019t tell whether or not she\u2019s taken Tuesday\u2019s heart medication.\nA final suggestion for IoT product developers: Be sure to have actual seniors test these new devices \u2014\u00a0and not just once for a few minutes in a focus group. Let them take it home and try it for a month, and see if they keep using after the initial excitement wears off. And if they stopped, is it because they didn\u2019t feel it delivered value or because they could no longer make it work they way they wanted it to.