Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
There’s a phone for you based on your susceptibility profile. So you know about so-called personalized medicine – here is one definition: "Personalized medicine research attempts to identify individual solutions based on the susceptibility profile of each individual." I do like the word 'susceptibility' as an analogy for the Samsung Galaxy S III phone I just acquired, one of the latest (for a few minutes at least) in smart phones. Two full days and a total of 200 setting choices for just 3 screens with 16 icons each, I am overwhelmed and reduced to a state of anxiety and blathering -- widget? App? Which home screen am I on? "Advanced, intuitive, simple" says Samsung’s website -- without irony.
The phone gets high marks from geek sites. One website referred to this phone as the Ferrari of mobile phones – such an apt description. So who among us might have gone into a show room for fun, gotten into a Ferrari, started it up and just drove off? Assuming a sales rep would let you touch the key and sit in the driver’s seat, that is. I bet that if one could afford the car, one might take the starter course and learn how best to drive it. That is so true of this phone for the very smart (I hesitate to call it a smart phone). And that brings me to the problem that this particular phone represents – along with the next and the next, not yet invented. Because a feature can be added, it will. Because some are willing to spend hours on customization, the device HAS the plethora of customization features patient users will tune to call it their own.
But is it a floor wax or a dessert topping? So we know that only 11% of the 65+ population uses smart phones – pretty much the same as a year ago. I can relate to this hesitation – a few minutes in the store with the phone's feature demonstrations could discourage those who were already doubtful. The settings on this particular phone were pre-selected as defaults -- but those defaults were not based on different levels of dexterity, visual acuity, finger size, tapping strength -- or patience with the preset cutesy beeps and chirps of various sounds. (The first setting I searched for was SILENCE). Yet this is a device that may be the only phone in the home of 30% of the population and that percentage is growing. So it is a small computer, for sure, but it is also a cellular telephone, a texting device, a book reader, a game console, a point and shoot camera, a video conferencing platform, a device for home banking ("Front of the Check, now Back of the Check"), shopping (in-store and at home) as well as a credit card replacement (see more about NFC). And on and on and on -- beyond imagining. No wonder users risk falling into manholes, bumping into walls and driving off the road.
There are apps aplenty – but each behaves poorly in its own special way. It’s not surprising that mobile apps are so different, so unusable and many are so downright horrendous. So many apps (700,000 for the iPhone alone!) have been created, but the market is terribly overcrowded and turns out that the developers aren’t making any money. It may be, as with Web and eCommerce software, that it will take a long time to shake out proper usability standards, launch online training programs that can keep up with devices AND transcend silliness sites like Dummies.com. In the meantime, we must sit patiently with our new gadgets that are, sadly, not part of any design for all carefully considered ecosystem – but are really just disposable junk-to-be – it is no wonder that two year contracts are the norm.