STYLE

Seniors with different needs being targeted by cellphone makers

07/17/2013 11:51 EDT | Updated 09/16/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Mobile phones are adapting as the population ages.

Bigger screens and keypads, amplified speakers, simplified cameras, and hearing-aid compatibility are senior-friendly features some manufacturers are exploring, said PC Magazine mobile analyst Sascha Segan.

"The train of thought that basically says seniors are technophobes should be replaced by a train of thought that says seniors are people who may have these physical issues going on," Segan said from New York.

"I know plenty of men and women in the 65- to 75-year-old range who want to communicate with their friends, their children, their grandchildren and look things up on the Internet and take tons of pictures, so they're all very excited about their smarpthones."

Jerome Arnaud, chief executive of the easy-to-use mobile phone maker Doro, said a segment of seniors just wants the "minimum functions that are vital to them."

"You still have a part of the population who also wishes to keep things simple," said Arnaud, in Canada recently for the launch of two of the company's phones, the PhoneEasy 620 and the PhoneEasy 520X. Doro is available at Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Zoomer Wireless and Cityfone.

Arnaud said some seniors "disconnect" from the latest technology as they get older, but still want to stay in touch with family and friends.

John McLaren, 80, tested a simplified Doro feature phone. He gave up on his smartphone after about a year and planned to give it to his teenaged granddaughter.

"Sometimes it doesn't do anything you want it to do because you've put the wrong finger on it," McLaren said of his smartphone experience.

He just wanted to make phone calls and eventually might do some text messaging.

McLaren preferred Doro's large keys and liked the emergency button on the back of the device that would allow him to alert family or a doctor with a text message in case of an emergency. He can also wear it around his neck on a lanyard.

"It just goes wherever I do and I don't lose it."

Segan said simple cellphones for seniors have been a mainstream product in Europe for some time.

There will always be a market for these simple-to-use cellphones, but it will be a niche market, he added.

Segan said some younger seniors are also gravitating to a Samsung Galaxy Note, which is commonly called a phablet because its size is in between a smartphone and a tablet.

He also said he'll be interested to see if Samsung's Easy Mode on its Galaxy S4 is successful, noting it has senior-friendly features such as a simplified interface and large touch targets.

"It has to be marketed and I don't know if people are very aware of this, so it may go unnoticed," he said.

"But the real question going forward is whether these mainstream companies like Samsung, LG and Apple are going to integrate senior-friendly features into their devices and if so, then what happens to Doro ... and the other specialty phone makers?"

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