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At age 82, Masako Wakamiya is one of the world’s oldest iPhone app developers, a trailblazer in making smartphones accessible for the elderly.
According to Yahoo Tech, she became interested in computers in the 1990s when she retired from her job as a bank clerk and 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 Apple’s Mac and iPhones.
Frustrated by the lack of interest from the tech industry in engaging older people, she said she taught herself to code.
Wakamiya learned the basics of coding and developed ‘Hinadan’ one of Japan’s first dedicated app games for the over 60s. She was also the oldest app creator at Apple’s prestigious Worldwide Developers Conference.
“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 says.
Her app ‘Hinadan’, which has been downloaded 42,000 times with hundreds of positive comments from users was inspired by the Hina Matsuri, a doll festival which takes place every March, where ornamental dolls representing the emperor, his family and their guests are displayed in a specific arrangement.
And while these figures are relatively small compared to Japan’s big-hitting apps which are downloaded in their millions, ‘Hinadan’ which is currently only available in Japan has proved popular enough that Wakamiya plans to release English, Chinese and possibly French versions of the app before next year’s festival.
Its success has propelled her on to the tech world stage, despite the industry’s reputation for being notoriously ageist
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Wakamiya concedes that she finds writing lines of code difficult but has a voracious appetite to learn more.
“I want to really understand the fundamentals of programming, because at the moment I only learned the elements necessary for creating Hinadan” She explained.
More than a quarter of Japan’s population is aged 65 and above, and this is projected to rise to 40 percent by 2055. The government is struggling to ensure its population remains active and healthy and so also see the dynamic octogenarian as an inspiration.
Wakamiya says her ultimate goal is to come up with other apps that can entertain older people and help transmit to young people the culture and traditions the old people possess.
Most old people have abandoned the idea of learning, but the fact that some are starting again is not only good for them but for the country’s economy.
Once you’ve achieved your professional life, you should return to school. In the era of the internet, if you stop learning, it has consequences for your daily life,”said Wakamiya, who took up the piano at age 75.
She said that her good health is down to an active mind and busy life.