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Can someone do this -- make a usable smart phone for seniors?

Two phones in the news today attempt to boost smartphone ownership among seniors.  Pew’s most recent smartphone utilization among the 65+ market in the US is still below 20%. There are two new entrants which -- on the surface -- seem unlikely to help. One of them is sold only in Japan and the other crashed during a test published in today's Wall Street Journal. For the former, the New York Times noted that the Fujitsu Raku-Raku ("easy easy") cell phone sold 20 million handsets in Japan over the past decade, with 10 million of them still in use. In partnership with telecom provider Orange, the company will introduce the Fujitsu Stylistic S01 smartphone into France – its first attempt to export outside of Japan -- and so far not available in the US market. This Raku-Raku smartphone handset has features that US manufacturers should adopt – firmer press required to select a dialing digit, brightening the screen for use in sunlight, a button to text GPS coordinates to get help, and (imagine that!) training on how to use the phones. Meanwhile, Doro has sold 4 million of its feature phone senior handsets and will soon offer more smartphones.

GreatCall launched its second smartphone – but reportedly it's still not quite right.  WSJ's Walt Mossberg (a long-time reputed Apple Fanboy) reviewed the new Jitterbug Touch 2, which replaces its previous and presumably failed attempt, the Jitterbug J Touch. Walt critiques the new one, however, as too slow, too little storage, saddled with a two-year-old version of Android (ugh) and which, Walt says, did inexplicably poorly during his test. If it had worked, he noted, it would be a great and easy-to-use device that could be bundled with other GreatCall senior-friendly services -- like 5Star Urgent Response, a symptom checker or medication tracking app. Better still, he notes, GreatCall provides great customer service. But based on his description, the phone (made by Chinese maker Huawei) seems unlikely to provide a compelling reason for non-Jitterbug users to migrate away from their feature phones. And a negative review in the Wall Street Journal cannot be too helpful.

Meanwhile, the most popular US smartphones are still out-of-the-box hostile. The best-selling smartphones in the US today are made by Apple and Samsung.  No one is sure how many iPhones or Samsung Galaxy S4s have been adopted by the 65+ or how many Samsung phones are actually used in Easy Mode. Surely not that many -- with 80% of seniors still on the smartphone sidelines. But by the time one gets to Easy Mode, all could be exhausted and alienated -- and public usability comparison information is, uh, limited. Consider all that swiping and pinching, the endless customizing of which apps to obliterate or include on one of its too many home screens, or the prospect of repeatedly returning to the store for refreshers about a myriad of modes. What's under that total cop-out label called More Settings? And what the heck is S Beam? Who knew there were four types of sound volume settings? Who knew that with the optimal finger capacitance, setting an option can be done accidentally with a finger that is a half-inch away from the screen?

No smart phone – but how long will that go on? The Times article blabbed away about the Japanese 65+ cohort growing to 25% or more of the population by 2050. Gee, yet another ludicrous future market context that must surely push engineers to accelerate their design deadlines. But maybe by then the US makers, who will have long stopped making simpler feature phones, will deliver a decent smartphone for those long-lived seniors in that faraway day. Too bad that won't help seniors today who are clutching their clamshell phones, irritably asserting that they're just enough, thank you very much. For now, maybe they're right. Hopefully the drivers among them also have a GPS device mounted in their car.  And maybe aging travelers will get all of the information they will need for a trip, much of it now provided exclusively online, before they leave the house. For now, if they travel and rent a car, everyone should have a passenger in a telematics-burdened rental car, if only to do battle with appalling radio station selection screens or better still, to help out by reading that sadly and smartphone-endangered species, paper maps.

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I'm now researching which have best sound quality or clarity for hearing aid users. Good news for MSFT is that parents miss their old, higher-quality Nokia handsets. So user experience is also key to knowing what keys to push.

Susannah Fox of Pew Research offered a bit more detail about older adult usage that was not displayed in the survey -- the big surprise, though, that nearly 20% of seniors surveyed have no cell phone at all.

1) For seniors age 65-70:

 25.3 % have a smartphone [114.7]

 62.5 % have a cell phone that is not a smartphone [283.5]

 12.2% do not have neither [ 55.2]


2) For seniors aged 71-75:

 23.% have a smartphone [56.7]

 55.7% have a cell phone that is not a smartphone [132]

 20.4% have neither [48.3]


3) For seniors aged 76-80:

 8.3% have a smartphone [18.8]

 60.8% have a cell phone that is not a smartphone [138]

 30.9% have neither [70]

Total survey count

Smartphone count total = 190

Cell, not smartphone = 553.7

No cell = 173

Total count = 917.7


I am often encouraged to read about the great work being done by researchers to create technology that improves the quality of life for seniors. Then there are the companies that seem to imply that technology is simply beyond seniors. Take the Jitterbug Cellphone for example. I recently ran across an advertisement that read:

“All my friends – and my kids—have new cell phones. They carry them around with them all day, like mini computers, with little tiny keyboards and hundreds of programs which are supposed to make life easier.

Trouble is … people my age can’t use them. The keyboards are too small, the displays are and to see, and the phones are so complicated that my friends end up borrowing my Jitterbug when they need to make a call.”

Thoughts on this type of marketing strategy?

The company BluRushMedia just released an app called EasyLaunch. It makes any android phone usable to people who struggle with technology. Check out the product at this site http://www.blurushmedia.com/easylaunch/index.html