Guest blog: Chris Marling – Can smartphones made for older people get them using mobile services?

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It is a widely held assumption that internet services can be a strong force for good for the older population. But it is equally clear that for many there is not enough motivation for them to engage with these new technologies. So is there a way smartphones can help bridge that gap?

A recent Ofcom report claimed a third of 55 to 64 year-olds are now using social networking (25 per cent for the over 65s), let alone email and the internet. But there’s a big drop off in the over-75s, with just 28 per cent having the internet at home at all.

In many ways, the telephone should be the ideal medium to break down the barriers a fast evolving computerised landscape have thrown up in front of an older population that often simply doesn’t trust or understand it. While computer keyboards and laptops may feel alien, the phone is familiar and has a generally accepted societal worth in terms of communication.

From landline to mobile

Smartphones designed specifically for older people are now becoming more common place and have started to become extremely popular in markets such as Japan, with sales exceeding expectations; the key has been making devices with genuinely useful applications, rather than just bigger keys and a larger font.

A strong example is Fujitsu’s Stylistic S-01, released earlier this year in Europe. While the obvious large buttons and typeface are there on the touchscreen for ease of use, the benefits for the older user go much deeper. These buttons are also colour coded, while three numbers can be pre-programmed and dialled with one-touch from the home page.

There is also a personal alarm that directly calls a number of your choosing. It is water resistant; auto adjusts voice call volumes, and even has technology that slows down the speed of fast talkers. Beyond this, there are options to turn on email, messaging and apps via the Android app store for more advanced users.

The fight against exclusion and isolation

I’m not sure it should be too hard to convince most older people that a mobile panic alarm that also lets relatives call them and that is simple to use is a good thing. The real beauty of smartphone technology is that the interface is so pliable; if you think certain elements will be overwhelming, simply switch them off.

A real key seems to be the added control older people feel once they do get connected; and companies such as Doro and Fujitsu are recognising this and bridging the generational gap. And if anything education on these devices needs to be directed at consumers; if these phones were in demand you would see far more on the high street. And now, with the same technology available on larger screen tablets (such as the Doro Experience, available for Android devices – which really demystifies computer technology) there is a fantastic opportunity to take a simple step from phone to home screen too.

Chris Marling from Broadband Genie.

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