“Super seniors,” or those senior citizens age 75+, participate in the digital wireless revolution just like other demographics. The only notable difference is that the mobile phones, laptop PCs, and tablet computers they use are primarily intended for other younger populations.
“There’s a saying in the technology industry that ‘smartphones are designed by 30-year-olds for 30-year-olds’,” said Scott Lien, CEO and Co-founder of GrandPad, a digital health company that created the first purpose-built tablet and service platform for people over the age of 75. “Almost nobody thinks about how to make smartphones or tablets usable and attractive for super seniors. However, GrandPad targets this market because it’s our passion.”
About eight years ago, Lien noticed that his then 80-year-old mother still had full cognitive function, but she was dealing with some minor dexterity issues, slight vision impairment, and hearing loss. Using a standard-issue smartphone or computer was difficult with the tiny buttons, small screen size, low volume, and troubles charging or plugging in. Technology frustrated her and sapped her desire to communicate electronically.
Scott Lien and his son, Isaac Lien, both technology developers and designers, set out to create GrandPad to solve those problems. The tablet features bigger buttons, a larger display, higher-fidelity speakers, and a foolproof wireless charging station that doubles as a reading stand. Although Lien’s mother passed away, the family continues to see the benefits of the solution he and his son created as they communicate with aunts, uncles, and their entire family network with much more ease, privacy, and security. When they can’t get together in person, they have a reliable way to virtually express their love and admiration.
As a consumer electronics product, GrandPad is a simple device with keyboard, screen, speaker, and camera. The Liens designed the GrandPad from scratch as a straightforward piece of hardware, which electronics company Acer custom builds, to make it easy to use for super seniors. However, in testing prototypes, GrandPad users found it problematic to complete software updates on their own. The challenge was how to configure the tablets and roll out software updates automatically.
Scott Lien also didn’t want GrandPads to store any data locally. If a super senior were ever to misplace or seriously damage their tablet, all of the irreplaceable photos, videos, text messages with emojis, and other personal electronic mementos could be lost forever.
Additionally, as a lean startup with only four employees when they first went into operation, GrandPad didn’t have the technical resources to do a lot of low-level coding and infrastructure engineering.
In 2013, when GrandPad hatched the plan for their tablet, they quickly decided on using a cloud computing platform. “Roll back the calendar eight years, and our group has this vision of how to use cloud services for the GrandPad,” said Lien. “What are our choices? Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Microsoft Azure was just getting started. Amazon basically told us, ‘AWS is a Linux server in the cloud; you’ve got to configure everything yourself.’”
With their small staff of only two computer engineers at the time, GrandPad quickly decided the self-service orientation of AWS didn’t make sense for them. Then, considering GCP, they determined it provided the level of service they needed, and it seemed promising for the future. “We really looked at GCP and said, ‘It has what we need today as a startup, and we’re confident that it’s going to grow, evolve, and deliver even more capabilities.’”
For capabilities like photo and video sharing, which are core to the GrandPad user experience, Lien and team were intrigued by the business-level functions of GCP.
“Instead of building everything from scratch, GCP offers many APIs and capabilities. It enables you to operate at a higher business function level.”Scott Lien | CEO and Co-founder at GrandPad
So, if a GrandPad user’s grandkids shoot a video on their iPhone, they can push a button to share it with their grandparent and their entire trusted circle of contacts easily. The Google Cloud Storage API can easily store and recall that video in Cloud Storage. “GCP offers one-click video sharing versus some other clouds that require 25 low-level commands, where you create the storage, upload the video bit by bit, close the storage, verify it, render it, and on and on,” said Lien. “Whereas, GCP enables us to operate at a higher level. The real intelligence of the GrandPad is on Google Cloud Platform. All the configurations, processing, and storage live there. Google Cloud builds a cloud service that works and scales.”
With the easy shareability of pictures and videos hosted on Cloud Storage, GrandPad users have uploaded over 7 million media files. GCP also enables super seniors to rest easy knowing that their applications are being looked after, with App Engine pushing out GrandPad software updates in the background, without any action being necessary on the part of the users.
Growing with Google Cloud and SADA
As GrandPad continued to grow, the company moved from self-sufficiency with Google Cloud to SADA as their Google Cloud Partner when they needed more hands-on help. “As we’ve scaled the business, we came to realize that we need a consultant to assist us with our GCP implementation,” said Lien. “Google Cloud was proactive in recommending SADA to us. They made the introduction, and off we went. SADA has been a great fit being only a quick phone call or email away for support.”
SADA was especially helpful to GrandPad for optimizing the performance of their SQL database including providing higher-level engineering support. “Working with SADA and Google Cloud engineering has been a very collaborative process,” said Lien. “Additionally, our DevOps team has benefited from SADA’s recommendations, such as using DataDog for logging and monitoring. Every interaction our engineers have had with SADA’s team has pleased them.”
As a result of working with SADA and Google Cloud, GrandPad has been able to devote its precious engineering resources to product innovation and service enhancements. Rather than working on infrastructure, GrandPad can dedicate their engineers to constantly improving the product.
“All my software engineers are always building new features and new functions that our users want or need,” said Lien. “If we didn’t live in Google Cloud, we would have to build all these backend systems from scratch, including our own data centers. The truth is, we couldn’t do it; it wouldn’t be cost effective.”
“The services that Google Cloud provides and that SADA supports enable us to do what we do. Without GCP and SADA, GrandPad couldn’t exist because it wouldn’t be economically viable.”Scott Lien | CEO and Co-founder at GrandPad
In addition to supporting ongoing operations, SADA is helping GrandPad move into the future. With the growing use and need for AI and machine learning in consumer devices, SADA has been delivering strategic support to GrandPad as they continue to implement these advanced cloud services on GCP. “We are using Google Cloud Platform machine learning tools for GrandPad services,” said Lien. “TensorFlow is newer, but we’re getting deep into that now, too.”
More broadly, SADA has been helpful to GrandPad in showing them around the Google Cloud ecosystem. “I’ve been able to meet the CEO and CTO of SADA,” said Lien. “In turn, they introduced me to contacts inside of Google Cloud, which led to each of us sharing our roadmaps and unlocking business opportunities none of us had thought of.”
It’s these unofficial touchpoints that can prove the most valuable. “Informal networking with Google Cloud and others has turned into a competitive advantage for GrandPad,” said Lien. “We’ve entered some discussions, and I’m hopeful for something coming to fruition.”