The article was published in a polish monthly marketing magazine
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The mobile phone is one of the fastest developing inventions in human history. Its new form, a smartphone, is according to research an indispensable companion of young people aged 18-29. Most of adverts, games and apps are directed at this, and even younger, age group. However it seems that the time has come for getting interested in other groups as well.

Societies are getting older. Eurostat forecasts that by 2060 almost 1/3 of European Union citizens will be at least 65 years old[1].

We work longer, we have children later, and retire at a higher age. It is estimated that this year, about 30% of the population will comprise of people over 55.

Smartphones belong to the young. They have a lot of functions, from a GPS through cameras, the Internet, the radio and apps for literally everything. Some of them may be very attractive for 50+ users (for instance sat nav). Other may be difficult to use and overwhelming. However, it turns out that this has been changing within the last few years.

The beginning of a revolution?

Almost half of Americans aged 50-64 (49%) went for a smartphone when choosing a mobile phone to buy [2]. In a bit older group (65+), 19% have smartphones.

It is expected that from this year onwards, the 55+ generation will be one of the fastest growing groups of smartphone users [3].

Interestingly enough, this trend has been visible in the West for a few years now. Experts estimate that with such a growth rate there will be no difference between individual age groups by 2020. One of the reasons is obvious: soon it will probably be impossible to buy a simple mobile phone with basic functions such as making calls and sending text messages.

Differences as regards use

Although the number of smartphones among 50+ users grows systematically every year, there are numerous differences regarding how they are used by different age groups.

Deloitte has conducted a survey in 11 developed countries (among others in Belgium, Finland, France and Germany) which points out that one in four smartphone users aged more than 55 has never downloaded any mobile app. Similarly to apps, over 2/3 users over 55 never go to any social networking sites via smartphones. At the same time a lot of them use social media in a “traditional” manner in front of a computer.

Most of the seniors only use the native functions, making calls and sending texts. There are several reasons for that.

First of all, the interface of both the operating system and the apps is usually full of options and has the user make a lot of choices. The range of choice is so big that it may become overwhelming sometimes.

Another problem is lack of knowledge on available data transfer and its price with a given operator. One fourth of 50+ users admit they have no idea about the price. They are also held back by the fear of huge bills due to excessive data transfer.

Using a smartphone is getting into a specific ecosystem with app stores. App markets offer millions of apps which aren’t really targeting users older than 50. One also has to have some astuteness when finding something interesting in this huge jungle (something that the app market doesn’t facilitate much).

This is a chance to show what both network operators and app developers can do. It takes a lot of time and patience to acquaint a senior with technology, but it should bear fruit in the future.

A proper smarphone

Choosing the right smartphone may not be a big problem for a 50-year-old person, but using it when you’re 65 or more may be quite a challenge.

Last year, five devices were tested as regards elderly user friendliness in Cambridge University labs. The analysed phones were Nokia Lumia 920, Nexus 4, iPhone 5, BlackBerry Z10 and Emporia phone as a product created especially for 50+ users.

What did the test look like? Laboratories in Cambridge are equipped with interesting simulators of how the elderly and the disabled feel and experience reality. Most of the simulations are visual or motorial. A person who wants to learn how it is to be 65 years old puts on special glasses ‘deteriorating’ their eyesight. Then they put on gloves which hinder grasping and make hands generally weaker, just like in older people. Finally, they wear a suit which limits movements, especially those of shoulder joints and elbows. The tester used each of above mentioned phones, dressed in such clothes. The result? The winner was the phone from Emporia laboratory, which had both the qualities of a standard mobile phone (the keyboard) and of a smartphone (the touchscreen). iPhone 5 and Nokia Lumia 920[4] also did very well.

Another test was conducted by Wired magazine in January 2015. They maintain that one of the best smartphones for the elderly is Fujitsu Stylistic S01 [5].

It’s worth noting that the number of companies specialising in such devices in rising. Silverline is one of the projects worth our attention; it’s a smartphone dedicated to seniors, with a very friendly interface. Another one is F12-D created by Fujitsu and DoCoMo company. It is equipped with Raku Raku [6], an Android-based operational system made in Japan. Raku Raku means ‘convenient’ or ‘simple’ in Japanese.

Polish senior is not smart

According to the newest data, in Poland in January this year 28% of phone owners aged 50-59 and 9% of users over 60 had a smartphone [7].

This means that Poles over 50 begin to reach for smartphones, though reluctantly. We still have a lot to do when we compare ourselves with the British or German market. It turns out that eight in ten Poles over 50 do not use the Internet. This means, that as much as 78 per cent (ca. 10 out of 13 million!) of Poles over 50 don’t have access to lower prices, better services, products and offers of companies which target their customers online. Moreover, we are one of the five countries which are the least digitized in the EU [8]. We are also far from the top also as regards access to the newest technologies. According to the current Global Competitiveness Index calculated by the World Economic Forum, we are currently in the 102nd place in the world [9].

It’s no wonder Polish 50+ generation is not easily convinced. Most of them still use traditional mobiles and are quite attached to them, as they replace their phones once every 2.5 years, on average. Only 7% of those people use mobile apps.5% declare willingness to use them. Interestingly enough, more than half of them take photos with their phones [10].

What is reassuring is the fact that there are grassroots initiatives in our country; they offer assistance to 50+ users getting them familiar with technology, content and services available online. One of such initiatives is Digital Poland of Equal Opportunities (Polska Cyfrowa Równych Szans, PCRS). The ‘lighthouse keepers’, as they call themselves, would like all Poles to be able to use the Internet, computers and mobile phones. A lighthouse shows the way to sailors who want to and can read its signals. Lighthouse keepers teach the sailors how to do that.

Mobile apps

The number of apps dedicated to seniors is small in comparison to what is offered to people who’re twenty-something. However, it is possible to divide those which are in the market into several basic thematic categories. These would be: communication, health, assistance at everyday life and assistance with smartphone use.

Most noticeable is especially the market segment focused on health and telemedicine. Analysts of ABI Research report that by 2016 the mHealth market may be worth even 400 million dollars. We can already notice how fast the development of apps which monitor various functions of our organisms is.

As regards other apps targeting 50+users, the ‘Big Launcher Senior Phone’ should be mentioned here. It is a simple Android interface simplifying the desktop, with large icons and easy access to the most needed functions, as well as clear presentation of recently made calls. The app is mostly dedicated to the elderly and people with sight disabilities. It turns out that young and healthy users are also very enthusiastic about it in their reviews. A similar thing is another Android-based app, ‘Phonotto Simple Phone Seniors’.Voice Reading will read out any text from websites or text files, while Silver Surf is a free-of-charge browser with large navigation button, as well as zooming and contrast changing options. Pill Reminders by Drugs.com will remind us about medicines. Dragon Dictation will help at writing emails and text messages, as you only need to loudly dictate your text.

This is just the beginning

We’re living in unbelievable times, watching new technologies being born and humans adapting to them very quickly. It seems that we missed the exact moment when we have become ‘mobile’ and started to sleep with smartphones under our pillows.

Many areas of our lives have become ‘smartphoned’. Seniors are learning about new technologies from their grandchildren. What will happen to the future generations? Will the Facebook generation need a guide in the future, too?