There are lots of misconceptions around mobile phones for older users, nearly all of them from those who are comfortable with the technology and who are unable to put themselves in the minds of those who are not.

One of the popular fallacies is that a phone which has reduced features and is suitable for our elders is just the thing for a kids phone. It’s a view which fails to understand both ends of the age spectrum.

Phones for kids and seniors and kids may look the same but they are not

The SafelinQ senior phone on the left has an emergency button and GPS, the Firefly kids phone on the right comes in pre-school colours.

Part of the reason for the failing is that there is such a wide variety of both older people and children, when you start to challenge the similarity assumption the person who made it thrashes up and down the age and ability scales of the demographics looking for a fit. Someone who has very reduced motor control might want a phone with three buttons, and that would also be perfect for a four year old.

But what is a four year old doing with a mobile? I’m pretty aggressive in exposing children to technology as young as possible. Four year olds with iPads? Great. Indeed there are some amazing learning to read apps. But a pre-school kit with a phone? Who are they going to call? I’d argue that anyone young enough to need a reduced feature phone is too young to be far away from a responsible adult. Once the child is old enough to be independent things change. That age is different in different cultures but it’s often when they move from their first school to ‘big’ school. When they start taking a bus. This is between the ages of nine and eleven.

One of the major factors in going to the big school is peer pressure. They’ve gone from being the oldest in their infants or prep school to the youngest in their secondary school. A huge tumble in status. All the cool kids in their new school have phones so it becomes a necessary status symbol.
Forget the fact that they are now of an age where communication with their parents is necessary “Mum, I’ll be late home I’ve got Band Practice/Detention/a match”. That can be done with the most basic of phones, but what has happened is that the kid has gone instantly from not needing a phone to ‘needing’ a top of the range model. If that child is a girl it will be a Blackberry: BBM is how teens communicate. If you don’t have one you’ll be ostracised. If it’s a girl it will be a Droid, complete with recognition of the lameness of Froyo and glory of Ice Cream Sandwich.
Pre-teens have the keenest eyesight and hearing, they don’t need the high contrast displays and hearing aid support of the phones that Fuss Free Phones specialises in.

Whenever I talk to normal mobile users about easy use mobile phones they get it straight away. When they say “That’s just the thing for my Gran”, I nod in agreement. If they say “That’s just the thing for my four year old”, I bite my tongue.

Simon Rockman