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Flip phones make no sense for older adults

Consider AARP’s list of flip and smart phones. AARP just published a puzzling guide article about smartphones targeted to older adults.  Note the article and the commentary that accompanied it – (and don’t get distracted by the paragraph explaining megapixels).  You may be struck by multiple aspects of this article – in addition to the phone makers you haven’t heard of. The IDC VP refers to older adults as senior citizens, for one, the T-Mobile exec lumping older adults into 55+ segment in a sweeping generalization of being ‘value conscious.’   Okay, enough being snippy.

Consider the similarity in price between some smartphones and flip phones.  Stay with the article for a bit and consider: the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G, at $282 and Kyocera Dura XV at $240.  Then you look around and see that the Kyocera phone is a rugged, ‘military grade’ flip phone.  Do older adults, no matter the age, need a  device that is a military grade product, that is waterproof, dustproof, a global-ready feature phone?  Is this phone really for older adults who are afraid of smartphones? 

Why smart phone interfaces need some design thinking. GreatCall, now part of BestBuy, figured this out years ago with the Jitterbug and now Lively simplification and branding.  Simple is quite feasible for a smart phone (see Samsung Easy Mode) – and requires a few minutes of customization and settings, easily done in a store or on the phone.  You only want email, texting, FaceTime and a non-tracking browser that enables you to see the text of an online news story?  You need a smartphone. You want to talk to software with your voice?  Google Assistant is a good start. But putting it on a flip phone is like attaching a car engine to a bicycle.

There are 54 million people aged 65+.  Boomers are turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day until 2030.  They have all the money.  They want a phone that is easy to hold and somewhat navigable for search, directions, FaceTime, YouTube, shopping, and socializing. A smartphone is an overly complicated device, time consuming to set up, keeping online advice sites in business, with overly sensitive touch screens that quickly take on a life of their own. These days, the first thing sales reps, family members, service providers and helpful grandchildren should do is examine the Accessibility features of iPhones and Android phones before getting started – and before sneaking away with the flip phone.


My soon to be 89 yr old mum has an iPhone and iPad and I was worried about her falls risk but she didn’t like the available alert bracelets or necklaces, not classy enough, so we got her an Apple Watch. Luckily she hasn’t had to use the falls detection but knowing it is there all the time has really increased her confidence. She doesn’t have to quickly find her phone to answer it which in itself is probably a hazard, now when I call she might be out in the garden or at the shops and it is so easy for her to use. She has embraced technology so well and all its positives in promoting independence.

I agree with you Laurie. A smartphone offers the ability to have video calls as well as telehealth visits.

My daughter is getting me a smart, Alert watch as well I am excited about having the security of having the watch to be an alert as well

Just so long as they have the cognitive ability to learn how to use smartphones and dexterity to manipulate them, I totally agree, smartphones can be a very positive life changing device for seniors.

An often overlooked benefit of smartphones is they are compatible with most hearing aids, meaning the hearing impaired person can stream phone conversations via Bluetooth directly through their prescriptively fit hearing aids. This is great for individuals having difficulties understanding speech on the phone.

And for hearing impaired patients with poor dexterity, the smart phones have Apps compatible with most hearing aids that act as an easy to use remote control. This helps them to adjust the hearing aids volume and additionally select from a variety of prescriptively programmed sound qualities to help them in difficulty listening environments.

This is an interesting topic, one that I actually created a company to solve.

Think about it, smartphones were designed for our youngest generation, but what if we took all of that functionality and created something brand new just for our seniors.

Call, texts, safe web browsing with no ads, movies, senior education, immediate access to on-call operators, and fully family-oriented.
Wouldn't that almost be a better solution?

Great article! GrandPad would be a nice alternative to include. 

 I share your POV about the need for simple, clean phone interfaces that support features and apps that seniors and caregivers value. Current smartphone offerings aren't designed for tech-challenged elders, Layer on challenges with dexterity and cognitive ability and there are few mobile solutions for this aging population. We switched mom to Great Call flip phone because she had ongoing issues using her LG phone; it resulted in new problems - poor sound quality, the battery couldn't hold a charge - so we canceled cell phone and set up a landline in her ALF apartment that she rarely answers. Remote communication is a moving target given emerging needs, so now I'm researching video calling and security camera monitoring solutions.

What they " should" have and what they can easily navigate are two different things.

I hate setting up a phone for people who have never used them what they generally want is access to email, Facebook , messages and calls. I never have a chance to travel much and don't need maps preinstalled for a start. Other things that bug me is when they preload social media sites before they put a decent file manager on the phone so you can find pdfs or music and pictures you need.


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