Sunday, 21 April 2013

Phones for Seniors

As we age, our bodies start to do things that we would rather they didn't. One such thing is there is a natural loss in hearing and visual acuity. People can become hard of hearing or require glasses to correct sight difficulties. Studies also suggest that mental functioning is also slowed down, thereby making it harder to retain and process new information. In other words, as we age we rely on our past experience to assist us in the future.

With all the changes that the digital revolution has spawned it is little wonder that many people, irrelevant of age, find technology daunting. The decision to engage digitally is being forced upon the UK by Government using online forms and information in preference to the printed word, thereby excluding anyone who is not computer literate.

I will leave computers to a further post, and concentrate this one on mobile phones.

The land line is all but dead. Most young people have a mobile phone and a contract with a network provider, which they change regularly along with getting a new phone. Research suggests older people are less likely to engage in mobile communication and when they do they tend to stick with the network provider and phone for considerably longer than young people.

Thus for the older person who wants to enter the mobile marketplace what are the options?

I would suggest there are three options:
1) a simple very cheap phone to make and receive calls on and nothing more.
2) an easy to use phone, which is specifically designed for older or disabled people.
3) a smartphone.

Let's consider the merit of each.

1) The simple phone (feature phones)

There are a range of simple phones which allow the user to make and receive calls. Some have Internet access and most will provide a simple SMS (text) service. There could even be a camera or fm radio facility with the phone but these are often tokenistic gestures and are of poor quality. The simple phone is ideal for people with excellent sight, excellent hearing and who are able to learn the relatively poor menu system that most have.  The menu system is one where it is easy to get lost and be unsure how to get out of the maze of menus. Screens accordingly can be poor and ringtone limited. You get what you pay for.

The Nokia 100 a simple mobile phone with no frills but a good price tag.

2) the Easy to Use Phone

Easy to use phones are not new but they can be hard to track down and even harder to test prior to purchase. In my two ebooks (Easy to use mobile phones and A guide to buying a mobile phone for the over 50's) I outline the key characteristics of an easy to use phone. This category is slowly growing in popularity and supermarkets are now beginning to stock some easy to use phones.

Essentially, easy to use phones have louder ring tones, increased volume, larger font sizes and better contrast. Some suffer from the difficult menu syndrome but most have the main things to use easily accessible for the user. Some easy to use phones have emergency buttons to allow the user to call for assistance in an emergency.  Some companies to consider looking out for are Alcatel, emporia, Doro, but a good selection are reviewed by Which? here, although it is difficult to argue they are all easy to use.

 The emporia ELEGANCEplus easy to use phone

The simplest easy to use phone is being marketed by AgeUK in their shops.  It is called the My Phone and looks like a brightly coloured credit card.  You can buy this phone and it allows the use to store only a preset number of your nearest and dearest on it and can emboss their names on it.  You press on the name and it dials the number. Clearly a phone like this is not suitable for the majority of the people in the world and might only be suited to those with cognitive impairments, but as it is so small I suspect it will be lost before it is ever used.  Sadly no voice mail feature, no caller recognition features to allow the user to see who is calling and a design that might look funky bad is hardly useable for people with dexterity issues or hearing problems.

AgeUK’s myphone

If you have hearing, sight or cognitive processing difficulties then an easy to use mobile phone might solve you communication problems.  This is especially the case as Doro have started to bring out a smartphone specifically for the older generation.  Although this may not compete with some of the top smartphones it might be worth investigating.

 The Doro 740 “Smartphone”

3) the Smartphone

Smartphones have been around for many years.  The iPhone is possibly the most famous of the bread.  Within smartphones there are a number of platforms that the phone can work on and these are iOS (Apples mobile platform); Windows mobile (Windows platform); Android (Google’s platform); Blackberry (the Blackberry platform) and Firefox (Mozzilla’s new platform).  Each has merits but if the search includes accessibility features and add-ons such as apps to personalise your mobile experience then iOs and Android are the ones to head towards at the moment as both have a range of accessibility additions you can use.

Ultimately, the question comes down to what do you want to do with your phone?

If you want to make calls and receive them and send the off SMS text to someone then a simple phone or an easy to use phone might be just what you are looking for, but increasingly people want more for their money and they want more from their mobile.  Thus if you want to watch movies, take good photos, do Internet chat sessions, browse the Web, play games, keep share documents up to date, use cloud services, complete online forms in on your phone, then you have to look for a smartphone or a tablet.

The nexus 4 runs the latest version of Android

Smartphones have progressed so that it is easy to understand the basics of how you interact with them.  Certainly Android has made leaps in this direction and has increasingly made the phone more user friendly.  Like anything, you have to learn the basics, but with iOS and Android the learning curve is less and things become intuitive quite simply.