Are touch-screens good for seniors?

Are touch-screens good for seniors?

The Senior Market 2011 conference, which took place in London on 20 September, is now in its third year. The conference looks at the needs of seniors, the business case and the routes to market for serving consumers who not only don’t have phones, they have high disposable incomes. Two of the presenters reminded us that people over 60 control 80% of the wealth in the UK.

The conference was hosted by Jon Bentley from Channel 5’s The Gadget Show, providing insight and consistency into the day.

The central theme of Senior Market Mobile 2011 was the coming of the touch-screen. It may seem that the senior market is five years behind the mainstream, but phones for people with impaired sight or hearing or who are just not that techie need special consideration. Learned behaviour like double tapping and swiping are not obvious.
 
Ian Hosking from the University of Cambridge gave the case for not using touch supported by videos and data, describing just how hard some people find it to use technology. Taking the contrary view, his colleague Mike Bradley talked about the opportunities that touch offered in providing ‘wizards’ that guide users through complex operations.

But building an understandable user interface using touch is a challenge. One solution to this was presented by Antony Ribot, who has built Threedom, a three-button interface for Android. This makes using a touch-screen phone incredibly simple. It’s still a prototype but his presentation impressed many of the handset manufacturers at the event, which led to him being pulled off into rooms for quiet meetings.

Touch-screen debate

A panel of four seniors took to the stage to give their views. Interestingly the two women were phone power users, one with an HTC Desire loved her phone, and said: ‘I never want to see another button again,’ which added to the touch-screen debate.

Several manufacturers in the senior market are looking to touch for future products. Albert Fellner from Emporia talked about how his company was working on touch and wanted to make sure it was done right. It has just appointed a new advisory board including John Clarkson from Cambridge University, Robert Bauer from the University of Linz, and Boris Nemsic, former CEO of Telekom Austria. Doro has just bought a French company which specialises in Android applications and Bea-fon shared a future roadmap, which includes a touch-screen phone.

The final word on touch came from the audience. Delegates were asked to vote on the assertion that ‘touch is a good technology for seniors’. When the votes were counted it was a landslide in favour with 84% of delegates agreeing.

The discussion around future products reflected a general vibe that the senior market wasn’t the next big thing – it is the current big thing. At last year’s conference people talked in terms of tens of thousands of phones shipped; this year they talked in hundreds of thousands. Emporia quoted a figure of 500,000 phones for the first six months of the year.

The growth has been encouraged by operators finding that by giving consumers the right products they can substantially increase ARPU. Nita Norma from Telstra talked about the Connected Seniors programme, which ran workshops to teach seniors about mobiles. It’s hard for those in the industry to realise just how little some people know about mobile. These are consumers who have no idea what a Sim card is, for example.

Reaching these customers is tough. They are not going to be regular readers of Engadget or Mobile Choice. Mark Beasley, managing director of rhc advantage, an independent marketing agency specialising in older, more mature audiences, gave his advice on how to target the senior market.

The senior market is growing significantly, and the watchword from the event was that it needs to be done sympathetically, providing the products consumers want and sold in a sympathetic manner.

If you are looking to grow your sales by expanding into the senior market there is plenty of potential, but you’ll need to work through some pre-conceptions.

The date of Senior Market 2012 is yet to be decided but you can find videos from this year at www.seniormarket.mobi.

Written by Mobile Today
Mobile Today

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