No, Global Grandpa, You Aren’t Too Old to Use A Cell Phone
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No, Global Grandpa, You Aren’t Too Old to Use A Cell Phone

No, Global Grandpa, You Aren’t Too Old to Use A Cell Phone

No, Global Grandpa, You Aren’t Too Old to Use A Cell PhoneAging People Need Cell Phones Too

According to a recent US census report, the number of people over 65 will double to 14 percent of the world’s population in the next 30 years, rising to 1.4 billion old folks. This change is the most rapid in developing nations, where the increase is more than double the rate in developed nations. The growth is tracking towards a predicted 1 billion old folks in developing nations, or 76 percent of the world’s 65-and-over population. (If you want to see that list of nearly 150 developing countries, go here.)

While many of these people already have cell phones, plan to get one soon, or have grandchildren who are desperate for them to go buy one, the fact remains that quite a few people have lived well into their adult lives without ever owning one. Remember, cell phones exploded on the scene only in the last decade or so.

Yet the phones that are available in the market do not meet the needs of older users. Our seniors have different needs than younger cell phone users. Poor eyesight, hearing loss, limited dexterity, limited mobility and other age-related issues require that phones be physically and functionally different.

For our seniors, their primary need is ease of communication. They are not connected to their loved ones and caregivers. Also, they do not gain the benefits of some useful tools mobile devices provide.

This means that, given the current products on the market, nearly 1.4 million people are fumbling with small keys, squinting to see tiny text, not able to hear anything, and confused by complex and non-intuitive UI controls. (I would chuck my phone into the river if I experienced this).

This is an unserved global market, and there is an opportunity to fill this gap. Telecomm companies will be developing phone devices, UI designs, and applications, and to reach the global market, localization will be mandatory.

What Will Phones Look Like for Older Folks?

Firstly, there is a redesign underway. Many cell phone makers are wisely addressing the cellular device needs of the elderly with new, elderly-friendly cell phones. They are streamlining, simplifying and elder-izing phones. They are also bringing the price down: with fewer features, the phones cost less than a ‘full-fledge’ smart phone.

What major features do the aging population need? The product needs to have or be:

  • Big: Larger keys, larger text, oversized icons
  • Loud: Enhanced speakers to amplify sound; multiple levels of volume control
  • Simple: Basic menu with clear yes/no – limited choices in UI; fewer confusing bells and whistles
  • Functional: Backlit number keys for ease of use in dim lighting, hearing aid compatible

Additionally, I’ve seen a number of useful and cool features tailored for this population. 

  • Audio technology to minimize the need to push keys (think Siri for seniors)
  • A “talk back” feature that speaks the numbers as they are dialed
  • Reading of menu options
  • Optimization of frequency range according to the user’s age
  • Extended battery life – they forget to plug them in! (no more battery draining applications) – as many as 25 days!
  • Simplified extras, like a calculator, an alarm clock, an FM radio, and even a couple of basic games

And finally, importantly, here are some very appealing safety features and apps that will benefit the elderly:

  • Live nurse service to answer health questions
  • Medical alerts and reminders feature (take your pills!)
  • An “SOS” button that can automatically call your emergency contacts
  • An operator who can place calls for you

Reaching the Global Elderly Market

All of these features are nifty for aging cell phone users, and our elders will use these features as long as they are easy to use. To me, a major part of this is that their component parts must be in-language. Simply put, a user will not confidently and comfortably use a device that is not in his/her native language, especially a technologically-challenged user. 

And the localization is manifold:

  • User interfaces have instructions, icons, buttons, and navigation features that will need to be localized
  • Applications (pill reminder, alarm clock) will need to be translated as well
  • Lastly, IVR or “talk back” features will require localized audio, multilingual speech recognition, and multilingual interactive voice response capabilities

Prior to any localization, the phone designer, UI developer or apps developer needs to consider how their product will localize. Will it throw lots of bugs in other language? Will the icons accommodate expansion? You won’t meet any old person’s needs if the functionalities don’t work when localized.

If companies get this right, I see a world full of relieved people as the aging population accesses technology that is easy for them to use, not overwhelming, with very useful (and even important) features. They don’t have to throw their smartphones in the river or avoid getting one out of fear for not being able to use it. I also see a world of relieved young people whose parents and grandparents are finally getting connected.    

Feature summaries of selected products that have these features are provided here and a good side-by-side comparison is available here.

What is your opinion about how many features for those of advanced age will need to be localized? Do you think a non-localized product will penetrate the global market? Is your app elderly-friendly, globally?

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