Learning > Inspiration

82-year-old app maker cracks tech code for seniors


The Straits Times


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FUJISAWA (Japan) • When 82-year-old Masako Wakamiya first began working, she still used an abacus for maths. Today, she is one of the world's oldest iPhone app developers, a trailblazer in making smartphones accessible to the elderly.


Frustrated by the lack of interest from the tech industry in engaging older people, she taught herself to code and set about doing it herself. The over-60s, she insists, need to seek out new skills to stay nimble.


"As you age, you lose many things: your husband, your job, your hair, your eyesight. The minuses are quite numerous. But when you learn something new, whether it be programming or the piano, it is a plus, it's motivating," she said.


"Once you've achieved your professional life, you should return to school."


Ms Wakamiya became interested in computers in the 1990s when she retired from her job as a bank clerk. It took her months to set up her first system, beginning with BBS messaging, a precursor to the Internet, before building her skills on a Microsoft PC, and then with Apple's Mac and iPhones.


She asked software developers to come up with more for the elderly, but the lack of response led her to take matters into her own hands.


Ms Wakamiya learnt the basics of coding and developed Hinadan, one of Japan's first dedicated game apps for the over-60s.


Hinadan - or "the doll staircase" - was inspired by the Hina Matsuri, a doll festival, where ornamental dolls representing the emperor, his family and their guests are displayed in a specific arrangement.


In Ms Wakamiya's app, users have to put them in the correct positions - a task harder than it sounds, requiring memorisation of the complex arrangements. The app, which is available only in Japanese, has been downloaded 42,000 times.


Its success has propelled her onto the tech world stage, despite the industry's reputation for being notoriously ageist.


Ms Wakamiya concedes that she finds "writing lines of code is difficult", but she has a voracious appetite to learn more.


"I want to really understand the fundamentals of programming, because at the moment I only learnt the elements necessary for creating Hinadan," she explained.


Ms Wakamiya wants to come up with "other apps that can entertain older people and help transmit to young people the culture and traditions we old people possess".


The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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