It’s technology which is confusing, not new technology.

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Just as the old struggle with new technology, the young struggle with old technology. the issue is technology not age.

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I’ve looked at lots of research into how older users find mobile phones difficult to use. It’s the driving force behind Fuss Free Phones. The model for the business is to take all the technology which is hard for customers to understand and to put it in the hands of a team of telephonists who can guide the user.  You don’t have to understand how to send texts, a tilly will do it for you.

My friend Ian Hosking at the University of Cambridge is the leading researcher in this field. His thinking has guided a lot of the work behind Fuss Free Phones and it’s worth watching this video from BBC Click.

 

I’ve been to enough talks from Ian and other people working with phones for older people to have thought through lots of issues. But I was very amused when a friend posted something:

What struck me comparing the two was how similar they were.  Both the older and the younger users thought themselves “stupid” for not being able to understand what they were being shown. It’s not about age but familiarity.

We’ve grown to think that technology is leaving older people behind. That every generation accumulates the understanding of how techie things work but if you think about it that’s not true. In my youth I played with developing film and printing. That’s pretty much a lost art, and we can accept that some skills become redundant.

But we feel differently about technology and that people should be constantly learning how to use new stuff.  What we don’t appreciate is that we all live in a bubble of understanding. The kids in the second video are best reflected by this cartoon

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We should remember that features in phones which many people regard as obvious are not only alien to people who are too old to have come across them but also alien to those too young to have done so.

New Look for fuss free phones website

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If you’ve been to the Fuss Free Phones website before you’ll have noticed a change. The new design goes hand in hand with a change of emphasis. While before Fuss Free Phones concentrated on selling mobile phone handsets for people who struggle with technology and mobile phones the new site concentrates on a combination of service and handset.

new ffp site

It’s something we’ve been working on for a very long time, and comes from the genesis of Fuss Free Phones. I’ve been a phone geek for years, I founded What Mobile magazine in 1992, and have worked for Motorola and Sony Ericsson. However much I like the latest technology I have always understood that plenty of people find it confusing. Indeed everyone I’ve talked to understands this. When I was first looking at the problem 15 years ago, and suggested easy to use mobile phones, people would say to me “That’s just the thing for my Grandmother”. Today they say “That’s just the thing for my mother.” The only thing that has changes is that I have got older.

In 2009 I looked at the large number of mobile phone companies which were offering products and services for seniors and realised that they didn’t really know each other.

This led to me setting up a conference on mobile phones for seniors. We had lots of inspiring speakers, but one I remember best of all was Arlene Harris of the US mobile phone network Jitterbug. Arlene has been in the mobile industry since long before cellular – since the 1950s when as a young girl she worked for her parents wireless business. Jitterbug is a service aimed at older people and Arlene said that it’s not about the handset or the service but about both.

From this Fuss Free Phones was born. In March 2011 I went to visit Bazile Telecom in France and could see how they had got Arlene’s model of handset and service completely right. With their inspirational support I’ve set up Fuss Free Phones. You can read about it on the rest of this site.

Simon Rockman

Introducing the Fuss Free Phones Service

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The new Fuss Free Phones service is now available.

We take the fuss out of mobiles. Our mobile phone is really easy to use but we offer much more than that. One button on the back of the handset links you to our 24 hour call centre where a real person can put a call through for you.

No automated call services. No contract and a team of people based in the UK who will help you at every step. We even offer a 30 day money back guarantee.

You can find more details of the service here and read about the costs here.

 

Comparing Big Button Mobile Phones

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The BC5C and 505 shown to scale

A lot of people have asked me about the merits of the Doro 505 over the Bluechip World BC5C, why is the Doro 50% more expensive than the Bluechip?

One thing no photograph can tell you is build quality. All mobile phones are built to a price, even the most expensive smartphones have some element of compromise. It’s always a difficult balancing act for the companies choosing which components to use. Do you go for more expensive plastics, metals and materials which show in the shop or spend more money on the electronics – particularly a part called the Power Amplifier and have a phone which works better with longer battery life.

At the super-cheap end of the market everything is compromised. The Bluechip BC5C uses a cheap (albeit solid) chipset from the manufacturer MTK, and is built to a design for senior phones that wasn’t terribly well researched. It’s fine if you want something which is a budget phone for occasional use but Doro understands the senior market very much better, it’s what they specialise in.

No-where is that more obvious than in the buttons. The photograph here shows both phones at the same comparative size with a pound coin. You’ll see that the coin covers two rows of buttons on the Doro and three rows on the Bluechip, but it’s easy to look at both phones and think that the Bluechip will be easier to use because it has bigger, or at least wider buttons. The Bluechip buttons are 1.5cm across and the Doro ones are 1cm across. The actual button size however isn’t the most important thing in how easy it is to make sure you press the right one. The distance between button centres is what matters and here the two are exactly the same on width and the Doro is better on height. If you have big or inaccurate fingers you are going to find the Doro easier.

Another important factor is separation and shape. The Doro has gaps between the keys making it much easier to feel the edge of a key and a lot harder to accidentally press two keys at once. The Doro keys are also subtly concave while the Bluechip ones are convex. If you are not very accurate in pressing a key the Doro will gently help you slide your finger towards the centre of the key while the Bluechip will slide your finger away.

In conclusion the Bluechip is a good phone in that it has a good enough display and big enough buttons to help people who find the vast majority of phones too small and fiddly, but the Doro really does justify the price difference. Indeed it should be a lot greater as the ones here are special purchase which has helped keep the price down.

The telecare industry needs to learn from the mobile phone industry

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I’ve been researching the telecare frequency. It’s something both Doro and Emporia announced support for at Mobile World Congress and at first blush it seems to open up a huge opportunity for using mobile phones for keeping an eye on people so that they can live for longer in their own homes.

Doro and emporia both offer their own ecosystemsThe Doro Phone  shown here on the left is the 681, and the Emporia on the right is the EmporiaCARE.

The idea is that devices such as fall sensors, smoke alarms, burglar alarms, panic buttons and hearing aids can all communicate with a mobile phone in a standard way. A bit like Bluetooth,

If a person presses the panic button or has a fire their carer can be alerted remotely. There are two frequencies set aside for telecare 169MHz and 869Mhz. The 169MHz frequency includes support for hearing aids the 869MHz one does not.

The problem with 169MHz is that it needs long antennas. The lower the frequency the longer the antenna you need. So a mobile phone which works at between 900MHz and 2100MHz can have a very sort antenna. By contrast submarines which often communicate at incredibly low frequencies might tow an antenna miles long. A little bit of physics: An antenna works best when it’s length is equal to the wavelength of the frequency. That is the distance between peaks or troughs in the signal. You can compromise by having an antenna which is a half or quarter of the wavelength. At 869MHz a quarter wave antenna is a little over three inches. So small enough to fit inside a mobile phone or smoke alarm. At 169Mhz it’s more than 16½ inches. Which would be too awkward to use.

Even 3 inches is too long for a hearing aid, and there isn’t enough  spectrum to support voice at the 869MHz frequency.

So the 169MHz option is pointless, but what is the real shame is the way the 869MHz frequency is used. Although the frequency is allocated there are no standards for how it is to be used. While you can pair a Motorola bluetooth headset with a Nokia mobile phone or control JBL Bluetooth speakers with an HTC phone, the equipment which supports Telecare has no standard protocols.

In the mobile phone world there are working groups and special interest groups (SIG) which produce standards. So the Bluetooth SIG defines a wide range of protocols and sets up interoperability testing.

None of this exists in telecare, it’s not even clear if the signals are analogue or digital. The upshot of this is that one manufacturer’s sensors won’t work with another manufacturers phones – be they fixed or mobile.

Talking to a few companies there seems to either be a lack of awareness that it could be any different or a feeling that it’s the best way for them to control the whole system.

It could work out with a defacto standard – Doro is compatible with Bosch. But the whole area falls so far short of what is considered normal in the phone world.

Simon Rockman

 

You can learn more about the Doro solution in this video.

Orange and Fujitsu launch Grandroid phone

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The Stylistic SO1, a smartphone for seniors has been announced by Orange France. There have been rumblings that Fujitsu was planning an announcement for its Raku-Raku based Android phone which has been very successful in Japan. Ice Cream Sandwich has been given a  user interface   layer which includes extra large buttons and a simplified layout.

The Stylistic has one hard key and is a full touchscreen phone, but includes a number of senior friendly technologies. The screen requires a button-like press to avoid accidental input. It’s quite common for people not familiar with touch screens to brush other parts of the screen while trying to tap on a particular icon and this can lead to unexpected results. The Stylistic needs a definite push in the right place and then provides tactile feedback.
Audio has been made senior friendly, our hearing typically takes a dive in out fifties and the Fujitsu phone slows the speech and lowers the tone of the audio. This is something Raku-Raku does in the network and it will be interesting to see how well it works in the handset and with a language other than Japanese.

The market for phones for seniors has been much overlooked outside of Japan, where it has been a huge success. Orange France, which has been under significant pressure from low cost rivals needs to explore new areas. The French MVNO Bazile  has been quietly successful in the senior market and Orange as the host network will have seen this.

The first raku raku phone for Europe
It’s a great opportunity for Fujitsu which has a deep understanding of the senior market and some great sensing and health care technologies to roll out into a market where differentiation is very difficult for new Android entrants.
There are some significant challenges, perhaps the greatest is staff training. When Vodafone launched the “Simply” handset, skewed at older users they invested significant resources in staff training. Orange has not announced anything about the service element of the deal but they will need to do something similar and perhaps look at a custom tariff and helpline. The phone will support “Orange et Moi” which is an online account management feature but this will need to be designed in an inclusive way if it is to be right for the target market.

Vodafone has also been looking at the Senior Smartphone market with the Smart Accessibility Awards  but there is a danger that both companies are being too ambitious, research from Forresters showed that in the US only 8% of seniors had a smartphone and only half of those had downloaded an app.
It’s hasn’t been said if users will be able to download apps from Google Play, the usual practice in the senior market is to have a closed ecosystem to ensure apps are easy to use. Swedish manufacturer Doro has been doing this for a few months with the Android based Doro 740.

The Stylistic S01 launches in France in June.

Smartphones for Seniors

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Some time ago I looked at how the senior market lags behind early adopters.

Back then I looked at 3G but the principal can similarly be applied to smartphones. There have been rumblings for a while, not least the interesting work Ribot is doing with the Threedom phone which gives an easy to use, three button user interface to Android phones. Threedom is very interesting but not yet commercial.

There is an explanation of Threedomphone here

Threedom – Friends from ribot on Vimeo.

What makes 2013 special is that there are two Android based Smartphones specifically aimed at seniors being launched. The Doro 740 is much anticipated and was arguably the star of the Mobile World Congress in 2012. A slider with a big keypad it’s a smartphone where you don’t have to use the touchscreen, and when you do use it there is no pinching, swiping or other action that requires excessive dexterity.

The Doro 740 has a simple user interface

The Doro 740: Android like you've never seen it before. The User Interface ahs been built from the ground up to be simple and easy to use.

The new entrant into the UK is Fujitsu, a company which has been making senior phones in Japan for a very long time. These sell on the Raku-Raku service, which is aimed at older users. The word “Raku” is usually translated to mean “easy”, but it can also mean “comfortable”, and the first Raku-Raku smartphone is simply called the Fujitsu Raku-Raku Smartphone. It’s been on sale in Japan since August and is coming to Europe and the US soon, although it will be significantly modified and may well bear a different name.

To enable users not acquainted with a touchscreen to operate the phone with the same ease-of-use as a conventional mobile phone, the screen is configured to detect differences between a finger stroke and a tap. When the user touches an icon, the colour of the icon will change to let the user know that it has been selected, and if they continue to press the icon, the phone will vibrate to confirm the selection. The handset is able to discern when a user is scrolling or when they are performing a touch operation, helping to reduce mistakes and improve accuracy of input. Even if the user’s fingers accidentally touch the edge of the screen, it will not result in mistaken input and interfere with operations. This lets users grasp the unit firmly. When users use the phone with a single hand they  often accidentally press the area below the button they want to push because they are looking at the button, not their hand. Omakase Touch automatically corrects the user’s input to ensure that the correct button is pressed, helping to reduce input mistakes.

As with the Doro 740, the Fujitsu has a closed ecosystem, it comes with a number of bespoke applications aimed at seniors and you cannot download applications from Google Play.

The phone has a  loud-volume telephone receiver speaker that provides clear sound and adjusts to eight settings for clear voice reception with minimal distortion. It also offers a built-in “Echo Cut” feature, even when using the phone in a place where sound echoes, the handset cancels out reverberation from the voice transmission. Another feature is the AWASERU VOICE 2 which corrects the audio based on hearing relating to age, SUPER HAKKIRI VOICE3 which enhances clarity, YUKKURI VOICE which slows down the speed of a user’s voice, and other basic Raku-Raku Phone functions.

The launch is part of Fujitsu’s expansion strategy. Although Fujitsu was at the top in mobile phone shipments, including smartphones, in Japan in fiscal 2011, “As the Japanese market has already hit a peak, we have to sell devices overseas to increase our sales numbers.” Said Fujitsu president, Masami Yamamoto.

There is an excellent look at the phone here:

I’ll post details of pricing and availability when I have them.

 

Simon Rockman

iPhone 5 for Seniors for Dummies

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Avoid this book

At the conference “Senior Market Mobile”, a theme developed. It was “Old, not stupid”. It’s a shame the authors of this book didn’t have any sense of the theme. It’s one of the most condescending things I’ve ever read.

This is a manual for the iPhone. It plods through all the features in the dullest possible way with little regard for how someone who has just bought a new iPhone might want to get on and play with their new toy. It’s chapter four before you get to make a call and chapter seven before you learn about the accessibility options. On the way you’ve learnt about iCloud and updating the operating system.

If the book were sensible it would start with the basics of how to switch the phone on, configure the accessibility options and then make a call. It would provide the gratification of getting the phone to work to inspire you to try new and different things.

There is a list of features (A6 processor, three microphones, Lightning connector) with no attempt at explaining what they might do for the customer. It tells you to decide “how much memory is enough” without any examples of what it might mean in terms of songs or videos.

There is no attempt a walkthroughs for things a reader might want to do. A great example would be taking a photograph, typically of a pet or grandchildren, and then setting it as wallpaper. There is no discussion of using hearing aids and inductive loopsets.

I fear that the author is too close to Apple, many of the accessibility options for the iPhone scream “afterthought”, yet there is no mention of this, even the widely derided maps application is gently praised.

This is a patronising manual for the iPhone. The author has taken the Apple documentation, re-written it and sold it to the publishers. It’s a school of journalism I have to plead a little guilty to myself. In the early 1980s when there was a plethora of different computers I worked on computer magazines. I, with some friends did a similar book on the Sinclair QL computer, but that was thirty years ago and I thought things had progressed since then.

The author runs http://www.techsmartsenior.com/index.html, a site on technology for seniors with small text on a shaded background.

I’ve also worked on computer manuals. The problem with writing a manual is that it has to address everyone from the most technical user to the ones who don’t understand the most basic concepts like a cursor. This book is a bit different, it has a well defined target market, it’s just as shame the author sees them as stupid rather than just old.

How Cambridge University researches inclusive design

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A good friend of Fuss Free Phones is Ian Hosking, from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Ian looks  at how to make products inclusive. That is to say starting at the first principals of designing a product and looking at how people understand it. Ian is the world’s leading expert on making phones usable for people who are often excluded by technology, and has been working in the field for nearly ten years. He’s run major projects for Vodafone and Emporia.Using a phone isn't so easy with poor eyesight and stiff fingers

He recently spoke to Dougal Shaw from the BBC to explain how his lab tests all kinds of things, not just big button mobile phones.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20529991

 

If you want to read more about inclusive design, Ian has worked with a number of other people to produce the Inclusive Design Toolkit.