Conversations involving the mobile industry can involve discussing some rather complicated technological terms, whether it is talking about the difference between 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum, or knowing how Froyo differs from Jelly Bean. However, it is rare that issues such as presbyopia are dropped into the discussion.
It is just one of the medical conditions raised by Chris Millington, Doro’s UK and Ireland MD. With the elderly market critical to its business, he says it needs to be conscious of issues affecting that part of the market. These can be seemingly mundane things such as changing the tone so phones can be easier to hear. ‘The iPhone is the number one phone in western Europe but it is one of the worst for sound,’ he says. ‘It is a brilliant, astonishing device but it is a poor phone. As your hearing deteriorates, you need to tweak the tone rather than increase the volume so people will hear it.’ Presbyopia, by the way, makes it more difficult to focus on a nearby object and is as inevitable as wrinkles.
Smartphone adoption may be considerably lower among the over-65s, at 5% compared with 71% for those aged 16-24, but it is still growing. It more than doubled in 2011 and Millington says the company is moving into smartphones in order to meet this growing demand. It recently launched its first Android handset, the Doro PhoneEasy 740, which is a hybrid touch-screen and key-operated phone – Millington explains how research shows older consumers are not entirely sold on a touch-screen, citing its difficulty to use when it gets cold. He says: ‘Our consumers are becoming much more practical. Just because you might be a bit older, doesn’t mean you don’t want to have the type of technology that smartphones give. We are moving from very basic devices to those that offer quite a lot of features, things like cameras.’
Despite moving into a more sophisticated area of the market than traditional feature phones, Millington says these new devices need to be priced competitively. He says there is a distrust of contracts among older consumers; they prefer pay as you go deals because they know what they are getting for their money and are not locked into longer-term deals.
He says the challenge for the business is to marry low-cost devices with simplicity of use and attractive features. ‘The elderly market wants a device that is good and has certain features like a camera, but they are not bothered by everything a smartphone can do. We want to offer good smartphone features but without the level of complexity that some can have.’
He adds: ‘The more we can adapt the device to make it easy, the better it will be for more people. People ask us who is our main competitor and it’s Apple – its strengths are simplicity and making its devices as easy to use as possible. So we have to differentiate ourselves from what it is doing. As BlackBerry will tell you, or Nokia, or Sony, if you try to take on Apple directly, you will lose. Those companies are now different because they are going for the lower end of the market.’
2012 marks Doro’s fifth year in mobile. It originally formed in Sweden out of the deregulation of the Scandinavian country’s telecoms industry, and has spent most of its time concentrating on fixed line, between business and domestic customers. This has dwindled as the appetite for mobile has surged during the past decade. As the company specialised in adapted products for the elderly, making it easier for the deaf or blind to make calls, it felt it best to take that learning and adapt it into mobile.
Millington says that smartphones’ potential means they will also have a benefit when it comes to healthcare. He says future devices could offer features such as measuring blood pressure, or blood sugar for diabetes sufferers. Doro works with charities such as Action on Hearing and the Royal National Institute for the Blind to discuss specific health issues that affect its customers and how it can help them. ‘We discuss the issues people face at a certain age and how we can address them in a way that will not be insulting but takes away any frustration.’