In this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference at San Jose, California, which is Apple’s annual event attended by over 1,000 of its software developers, there is a woman that stood out from the rest. Not because she is a woman per se, but because she is an outlier –the woman I am talking about is 81 years old.
Masako Wakamiya is fairly easy to spot in the WWDC in June. She is the oldest app creator in attendance. And for a reason.
A retired banker, Wakamiya started getting interested with computers in the 1990s when she was caring for her elderly mother. It was also the time that she found it difficult to go out and socialize with friends so she fiddled with computers. She was 60 then.
She recalled in her TEDx conference in Tokyo in 2014 that it took her three months to set up her first computer and eventually get online. She started with BBS messaging, a precursor to the Internet, and later figured out how Microsoft PCs, Apple’s Mac, and iPhones work.
Photo by AFP
Along the way, she joined what is called as the “silver club” where senior citizens mingle on the Internet. Wakamiya shared through CNN that she talked with a lot of silver guys – she is single and without children, by the way.
But being a woman who is interested with apps, she wanted a few that were designed for seniors like her. She took to many software developers about building at least one, but her request was not granted even once. That is where she decided to learn how to code and create apps on her own.
“I wanted to create a fun app to get elderly people interested in smartphones,” she said. “It took about half a year to develop.”
Photo by AFP
Wakamiya is referring to the app called Hinadan, an iOS game based on Japan’s traditional festival Hinamatsuri, or Doll’s Day, usually celebrated in early March. In this event, ornamental dolls representing the emperor, his family, and their guests are displayed in a specific arrangement.
The app that Wakamiya developed essentially asks the users to put the dolls in correct positions. While it seems to be easy as per instructions, the game is harder than it sounds.
Video by Masako Wakamiya
For now, Hinadan is only available in Japanese. It has over 42,000 downloads with many positive reviews. Wakamiya, who is now 82, plans to release English, Chinese, and French versions of the app before next year’s WWDC.
She admits that there is still a lot to learn. “I want to really understand the fundamentals of programming, because at the moment I only learned the elements necessary for creating Hinadan,” she explained.
“I have lots of ideas and want to create new apps, but my programing skills are poor,” she said in another interview. “I need more time to develop them,” she added.
But creating Hinadan was enough for Wakamiya to earn a meeting with Apple’s chief executive himself, Tim Cook.
Photo by DPA
“He asked me what I had done to make sure that older people could use the app,” she revealed. “I explained that I’d thought about this in my programming — recognizing that older people lose their hearing and eyesight, and their fingers might not work so well.”
Wakamiya added that Mr. Cook complimented her and said that he had hailed her as a “source of inspiration.”