back to article Phones for the elderly: Testers wanted for senior service

As if getting a business idea from Reg reader comments wasn’t enough for Simon Rockman he now wants help to get it working. Some time ago I wrote a review of mobile phones for Seniors for The Reg. I’ve often said that the quality of the readers’ comments is one of the things that makes this publication special. I’d been …

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  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a dumb idea. Seriously dumb, not to mention insulting to your target market.

    Being a senior citizen doesn't mean you suddenly become dumb as a brick, what it is likely to mean is impared eye-sight and/or hearing.

    The main problem with mobile phones (and this from the experience of my 87yo Father) is that the buttons and screen text are too small. All that's needed is a phone with large buttons (so it can be clearly seen which button is being pressed), the numbers on the screen nice and large and a decent speaker so someone with less than perfect hearing can understand the person on the other end.

    As to knowing which number to dial? On his land-line speed dial has been setup for each of his regular contacts with an insert listing them. Absolutely no reason why this couldn't also be done on a mobile phone.

    He doesn't need all the stuff your average smart phone does, so a simplified user interface with the emphasis being on making phone calls (which most people seem to forget is what the damn thing is for anyway).

    Some things do not need a complex solution. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

    1. Don Jefe
      Pirate

      No, what becoming old meant for your father was reduced eyesight. What becoming old meant for my Grandmother was gibbering insanity and a fear of the History channel because she confused it with news coverage of Hitler, but her eyesight was great. To assume that your father had a monopoly on the side effects of becoming old is asinine and extremely selfish and unbelievably short sighted.

      If an old people mobile service as described makes the twilight years of seniors a better experience It is a good thing. I'm going to be old one day and I like to think the world had not forgotten me & all the other olds when (if) I get there.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >What a dumb idea. Seriously dumb, not to mention insulting to your target market.

      By definition, his target market don't read The Register. A significant percentage of our older population have never been on-line- something that has implications for government services and ultility companies that only offer their best rates to on-line customers.

      >Being a senior citizen doesn't mean you suddenly become dumb as a brick, what it is likely to mean is impared eye-sight and/or hearing.

      Ageing affects people differently. Most people will suffer poorer eyesight at some point - and for those, a conventional flip-phone with large buttons will be the good solution, or perhaps one of the phones designed for the elderly market

      However, some of us might develop chronic arthritis, or perhaps one of the many forms of Alzheimer's, to one degree or another. Many studies suggest that if people with Alzheimer's are surrounded by the trappings of their youth - interior decor, music etc* - they are happier and less likely to be confused, so replicating the familiar 'Hello operator, please connect me to...' experience of their youth is a good idea.

      *There is a elderly care home /community in Holland, I believe, with an entire street set out as it might have been several decades ago. The shops are real, but with products and layouts reminiscent of the 1950s, and is used by members of the public and not just residents. Should a resident have a funny five minues and wander out of a shop without paying it is no problem, the shop keeper just makes a friendly phone call to a carer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Thank you

        Thank for expressing the thoughts I had wrt the original AC's post, but in a much more polite way.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01kbm0g

        The BBC's You and Yours programme (link above) had some coverage of the "dementia village" I guess you mean (it's called Hogewey), in July last year. You can hear just that segment again (13 minutes) at

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vs1j1

        Spectacularly worth a listen, especially if you or anyone important to you is ever likely to get old and be at risk of dementia. There's plenty of other coverage elsewhere.

        And to Mr Rockman: good luck. I don't need this (yet), and the folks I did know that might have benefited are no longer around. But who knows what tomorrow brings for any of us.

      2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        ... Many studies suggest that if people with Alzheimer's are surrounded by the trappings of their youth - interior decor, music etc* - they are happier and less likely to be confused, so replicating the familiar 'Hello operator, please connect me to...' experience of their youth is a good idea.

        *There is a elderly care home /community in Holland, I believe, with an entire street set out as it might have been several decades ago. The shops are real, but with products and layouts reminiscent of the 1950s,..

        So, when we're old, we'll be provided with cramped apartments strewn with empty beer-cans and X-Boxes....?

    3. Lars Silver badge
      Coat

      "impared eye-sight" I will agree on that. I have an "old" Nokia and I use the alarm for waking me up. But for some stupid reason the text is so damned tiny, without any reasons, I need to put on my glasses to read it. Stupid. As far as dumb ideas I will not agree. There are always people, old or young, who need and will benefit from something the rest of us do not need, yet, perhaps.

    4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      It's not compulsory

      It's an excellent idea for SOME people - and for those people it could be a godsend. Not just SOME elderly people, but others who, for one reason or another, can't make full use of a conventional phone. Perhaps quadraplegics who can just about manage to press one button to activate a phone? Or young children who get lost perhaps? ("I want to talk to my mummy!") - I'm sure we could come up with a long list and, if the price isn't too high, I'm sure the real world may well come up with many people who can make use of the service (just not your 87yo father - well, not yet at least)

      1. Ole Juul

        Re: It's not compulsory

        It's an excellent idea for SOME people . . .

        I think you nailed it. This is not a matter of "ageism", but that people have different needs as they get older. There's lots of old folk out here who are quite capable of figuring out digital devices, some of them may even have invented some. Others lose certain selective faculties that makes this phone a real help.

        1. PJI

          Re: It's not compulsory

          This is a good idea for lots of people. Even people who do not normally need such a system could find it rather useful if suffering from illness or injury making fiddly dialling or remembering how to use the thing awkward or worse. Actually, many "busy" people would be delighted to just pick up the 'phone, say, "Please put me on to Mr. Xyz" and continue with something else while the operator gets on with it.

          Presumably, such an operator would also take messages or read them out when asked (voice mail seems to defeat an awful lot of people).

          I often wonder if the demise of the group secretary or typist is not a mistake, with well-paid engineers or managers spending hours mistyping documents and letters, making a mess of booking travel and doing everything except the job for which they were employed, while doing the admin and typing badly. Same principal.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Thumb Up

            Re: It's not compulsory

            @PJI - Such services exist... virtual PA services do precisely that.

            Oh, and it's principle. Just sayin'. ;-)

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I don't see what's much simpler for the end user than providing an old-fashioned operator.

      As voice control goes, it knocks SIRI into the proverbial.....

      And Doro are simplified phones.

      (not so old but still old enough to remember party-lines and the clickety-clack of the exchanges in response to the pulses of the rotary dial)

      1. Charles Manning

        A human operator is hard to beat

        The last time I phoned a number with a human operator was some time in the 19802, phoning a person in a small village. The operator controlled phone exchange was in the small store on the main (well only) street - the road through the village.

        The call went something like this:

        "Hello Foobar Exchange"

        "Hello, could you please connect me with 883".

        "Do you want to speak with Judy?"

        "Yes"

        "Well she's out at the moment. She normally pops around to Jenny for tea this time of day, Hang on..."

        Backgtound sound of ringing:

        "Hello Jenny, is Jane there? Good. I have someone who wants to speak with her."

        Beat that Siri!

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not dumb

      We bought my dad a mobile, weeks later he said it was useless, it never rang. I had a look, the battery was flat, I asked him when he had last charged it..... 'What do you mean I have to charge it', he said.

      For some elderly people, a simple device is ideal.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not dumb

        Buy a Doro phone, one of it's features is a dock that handles battery charging so you can tell him it's like a conventional phone: put the reciever back on the cradle when it's not in use.

        Then point out that it is a bit smarter that the normal domestic phone. It will work away from the house but needs to go back in the cradle when you get home.

    7. Charles Manning

      Older means wiser, blinder and less distracted by "cool"

      At 51, I'm an older techie. My eyes are not what they used to be. Nor is my patience for shiny faddish crap like twitter, facebook etc.

      I have an Android. It has some useful features like the maps. And a real keyboard for sending texts when I need to (I can even use real words and grammar).

      I often find myself wanting to steal my wife's dumb-as-a-rock phone which has HUGE buttons - easy to read without my glasses on and absolutely no shiny features.

      I don't care about "cool" . It is pointless. I've seen so much cool stuff through the years (first man on the moon, Walkman, CDs, Segway scooters,...). Some of it was really amazing, some was just faddish crap. I fail to find "cool" amazing any more. Unless it has a real useful purpose I'm not bothered.

      [Oh, in case you think I am a Luddite, I write OS software and have done a lot of electronic design].

    8. Whitter
      Thumb Up

      Visual and dexterous imparement (e.g. post-stroke) are common in older generations. This proposal may not meet everyone's needs, but it will help a good number, and that's a plus for them. And it is simple, stupid.

    9. Trustme
      FAIL

      "What a dumb idea. Seriously dumb, not to mention insulting to your target market."

      My mother is 80 and has never managed to successfully use her mobile phone, the technology confuses her just by "being" and her arthritis makes it next to impossible to use a tiny handset, and she has speed dial but she's never going to remember which one is which. The one phone she can use is about the size of a 10 inch tablet, she's hardly going to slip that in her handbag! She can, however, press one button and ask for someone to do it for her, because like a lot of older people she prefers the comfort of a human voice to coldly mashing a keyboard with no help. This product isn't aimed at seniors who are perfectly happy using a phone, it's aimed at people who are not. Your comment is as retarded as saying "This phone is no use for blue whales", the target market is those who struggle, calling it stupid because it doesn't help those who don't struggle is about as stupid as you can possibly be, not to mention incredibly insulting to the phone's ACTUAL target market by dismissing them as if they don't exist just because you evidently think every senior person in the world is a carbon copy of your granddaddy.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >What a dumb idea. Seriously dumb, not to mention insulting to your target market.

      Is this a troll?

      The target market that would be insulted is not the target market.

      The target market may not be enormous but it exists and consists of those elderly folk who need this level of service.

    11. Richard Cranium

      I might be in trouble. My wife just turned 60. She's a bit of a technophobe and had been grumbling about her mobile phone: text too small, wanted one she can easily use as a camera, prefers clamshell designs with a neck-cord, doesn't give a toss about smart-phones and apps, wants a phone to make phone calls and occasional texts (proper big clear buttons please - not on-screen buttons).

      I got her a Doro phone, so far I've managed to obfuscate the fact that Doro's target market is the elderly but now her friends all want the same. Someone's sure to let the cat out of the bag.

      Wish me luck.

    12. Jemma Silver badge

      ....and on the winge; Eadon...

  3. SpitefulGOD

    Best dumb phone

    Nokia 105

    1. h3

      Re: Best dumb phone

      Interesting maybe I will get one still using a Nokia 6230i for calls and texts getting a bit old now. (As in needs parts changing really but I don't trust the scum on ebay to sell genuine).

      35 days standby looks like just what I need thanks.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Best dumb phone

      Nokia 5185. Mine's over a decade old, and still works like new. Even in Sonoma County's so-called "dead zones".

      1. Anonymous Coward
  4. Mr_Pitiful
    Thumb Up

    I think this is a great idea

    My mother recently had a fall and broke her hip. She wasn't close to her landline and it took her 3 hours to crawl to the phone to call for help!

    A Mobile may have helped in this case and I'm all for it.

    1. h3

      Re: I think this is a great idea

      Just because she had one. (Prior to an event like this). Wouldn't necessarily mean that it was on her person or any easier to get to.

    2. keithpeter

      Re: I think this is a great idea

      @Mr_Pitiful

      Get onto social services (assuming you are in UK). There are neck cord based pagers with one button that when pressed will have care worker/paramedic in attendance in 10 minutes or so. Reassuring for all concerned.

      1. Darryl
        Unhappy

        Re: Neck cord pagers

        Yeah, they're great, if, unlike my mother, the person actually wears the damn thing around their neck.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: I think this is a great idea

        Pager with only one function, like the emergency phone to keep in the glove box, is a waste of time for most people as because they don't use it they forget to carry it. However, combine this function with something useful and you'll find that the person will carry it about with them - hence why mobile phones took off.

        Fuss Free phones looks interesting, because provided they have got the on-boarding sorted, a person will be able to call the operator and have them place that emergency call, whilst the operator stays on the line to provide necessary re-assurance and notify others that need to know.

        I've signed up several relatives, from those that can't hold a mobile phone far enough away so that they can read it to those who find using the phone's in-built addressbook difficult.

  5. Peter Revell

    I am 80 years old - my Doro PhoneEasy 338gsm can receive text messages but not send them.

  6. FanMan
    WTF?

    Una palabra

    One word: iPhone

    Congenially yours

    Ian (69½)

  7. 45RPM
    WTF?

    Stupid Idea

    My father is in his eighties. My mother well into her seventies. Neither are geeks - and both love their iPhones. Why? Because the iPhone (and Android, and Windows phone - smartphones in general) are enabling devices, and neither of my parents are thick.

    Surely the service being discussed here is merely one for dribbling imbeciles?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stupid Idea

      "Surely the service being discussed here is merely one for dribbling imbeciles?"

      iPhone users ...exactly

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is ALMOST a solution looking for a problem.

    Yes, there is a limited group of people that might find this service comforting but they will be in their 90s now. I'm not sure when the last manual exchange closed but I don't think there will be many people that are used to calling the operator. The last time I did that was in the late 50s in a remote area of NSW where my wife worked in the local exchange.

    Many of the people I know in their 80s and 90s are using smartphones with front facing cameras to keep in touch with their children and grand children and in one case great grand children. For them what is needed is a reliable emergency response team at the end of a speed dial number.

    The other problem I can foresee is one of coverage - is this going to be a service limited to areas of good coverage or is it supposed to be universal?

    I am trying to see past my negativity about this and look at its potential usefulness but I find it hard and I'm up in the age group it is supposed to be for.

    The beta trial might help to iron out problems but the last question is how is the cost to be covered if the service goes live - those living on OAP don't have any spare money to splash out.

    1. Martin 71 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      being an MVNO, the coverage would depend solely on the big network it's piggybacking onto. Most of the major networks in the UK now have pretty good coverage, at least for telephone purposes, but yes, I agree you'd want to check into that first.

      1. davidp231

        "being an MVNO, the coverage would depend solely on the big network it's piggybacking onto"

        But if said big network goes tits-up, so does every MVNO piggybacked onto it. Classic example being O2 going down, taking giff-gaff and Tesco users with it.

        Most of the major networks in the UK now have pretty good coverage, at least for telephone purposes,

        If the system is just designed to make phonecalls and use SMS, all they need is 2G coverage, so really the only places without coverage would be where there is zero coverage at all. Though saying that, a friend of mine on 3 lives a stone-throw away from a phone mast but gets no signal at all in her house - she has to go outside to do anything with her mobile... aside from using it as a paperweight.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I know one person in her 80's, and with the early stages of Alzheimer's, for whom this would be ideal (not to mention a boon for her friends and children). My Mum, in her late 70's and still with her accustomed complement of marbles, was given an iPhone hand-me-down, and is managing well with it so far. She would be offended if offered a phone service as described. This is definitely a service with potential customers, but describing it as being "for seniors" would not be good marketing.

      AFAIK the last UK manual exchange closed in the early 1980's, and I (I'm only in my 50s) still remember using them in Ireland.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There's no harm making mobile easier to use, voice control is one element, another is charging, my mother seldom carries her mobile and I think the combination of wireless charging mat and a big battery would help. Having a list of phone numbers taped to the phone also helps her. Some kind of intelligence to correct city and country codes automatically would be good too, she doesn't need someone to dial for her but often forgets the mobile doesn't 'know' where it is and she leaves off the prefix when dialling locally.

        AC for my mother's privacy, as friends know my Reg nickname and my mum.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "I think the combination of wireless charging mat and a big battery would help."

          That reminds me of another OAP feature of my Doro 610. It has a charging stand to avoid fiddling with the tiny USB connector

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re charging

            Good point - I'm in my thirties and I find microUSB connectors a bit of a faff. I know that they are D shaped, but still I need to look closely to work out which way I need to plug them in.

            MicroUSB requires both good eyesight and digital (as in fingers) dexterity. I haven't used the iPhone 'Lightening' connector, but it would appear to be a better design than microUSB - unidirectional, and rounded edges (unlike the sharp edges of stamped metal found on USB)

            Purely for charging, an old 'Nokia charger' plug is nice and easy to insert. I haven't used any wireless charging solution, but assume that it would be a good feature for this market.

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        @AC 26May 10:41 - describing it as being "for seniors" would not be good marketing.

        I came to the same conclusion, a phone service that is manned by knowledgeable operators potentially has a wider audience - remember the various adverts for the various directory services offerings, where they have expended out from straight number lookup into wider service offerings that require more from their operators.

        From what I can see, the phone is still usable as a normal phone, only that the assistance/emergency button has been redefined as 'operator' - a concern I therefore have with the Doro is whether the normal functionality of the emergency key to use hands-free mode has been changed/user configurable.

  9. cosymart
    Windows

    What I want....

    My hearing is not good so I have difficulty in hearing my phone ringing, yes I can have it on vibrate but that means I have to have it in a close pocket. It is not always convenient to have my phone in my pocket so something that transmits to my hearing aid would be useful. Anything out there? A dual bluetooth/digital hearing aid would be just the ticket!

    1. thondwe
      Happy

      Re: What I want....

      Google Bluetooth hearing aid, seems its already been done?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What I want....

      "Anything out there? A dual bluetooth/digital hearing aid would be just the ticket!"

      Check out the Doro "Easy" range of mobiles. Larger keys, larger text, louder rings, louder speech, and Bluetooth. The manual mentions compatibilty with hearing aids. Yet still a reasonable small pocket size.

      The Doro 610 I bought yesterday form a general phone shop was £39.95 - and unlocked.

      1. cosymart
        Thumb Down

        Re: What I want....

        You guys are all missing the point... Yes, I can get a phone with bluetooth. Yes, they have digital hearing aid compatibility (T setting). The bluetooth hearing aid adapters are about as ascetically pleasing as a brick and require the hearing aid to be permanently set to the T setting which effectively means I am completely deaf :-(

        The bluetooth hearing aids are mostly bluetooth earpieces with sound boosters which are cheap crap.

  10. Barry Rueger

    Old ≠ Stupid and Usless

    I know lots of people aged well past sixty. Probably because I'm not too far behind.

    As I near my supposed Golden Years (ah for the days when pensions and even retirement were the norm, rather than today's endless slide into semi-employed poverty) I am often amazed at what marketers and fools think I need or want.

    With the sole exception of my Mom (80 this year) every person I know has a mobile phone, and no-one has any significant issues using them.

    Most of them also are rabid Facebook users - that's how our entire extended family keeps in touch.

    My former mother-in law, also around 80, has for years traded pirated sewing machine computer embroidery patterns via e-mail with other like minded Disney fans.

    No-one that I know is in a rush to move into a retirement home, and most of them are still heading out to loud rock concerts with the friends. Some while abusing certain controlled substances.

    Although there are surely some people who could benefit from this dumbed down phone, the reality of most baby-boomers over sixty is that they grew up with technology, and embraced it with joy and curiosity. They've used computers at work and at home from at least the days of the original IBM PC, have upgraded at least eight or ten times, and have happily added iPods, smart phones, and other doodads to their tech arsenal.

    So Mr. Simon Rockman: get your head out of your ass, and market this product to the people who actually need it, instead of making bone-headed assumptions about the 85% of older people who aren't invalids, idiots, or luddites.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Old ≠ Stupid and Usless

      "ah for the days when pensions and even retirement were the norm, rather than today's endless slide into semi-employed poverty"

      So, roughly 1950 - 1990 ? Not even a generation.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Old ≠ Stupid and Usless

      > rabid Facebook users

      Is there another sort?

  11. h3

    I think something like this would be hell for the operators. Dementure is hard work but there again most of the time dealing with older people is much more peaceful. (Pre baby boomers).

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Operators

      The Operators really will make or break this service.

      My gut feeling is that the best candidates will mostly be 55+ and have previous call handling experience most likely in a directory enquiries or similar environment.

      For dementia sufferers (and other clear user groups) it should be possible in time (ie. assuming the service grows) to assign users to a team of dedicated operators.

  12. Shadowmanx2012
    Happy

    Great idea

    I think there is definitely a market for this idea given the project growth in population of people over the age of 65.

  13. RealFred
    Happy

    Great Idea

    What a great idea. I have my wife's number on my mobile phone under wife and I press the button and it calls her. I don't know what her mobile number is and I don't really care, I can reach her easily. If I have an accident, all someone has to do is to look for wife on my contact list and they can phone her. As I am nearly 60 years old and have a few friends who are older, having a service like this that they can just call their son or daughter would make their lives really easy. Its also a really good idea if someone could pick up the mobile and easily contact a relative of the person who owns the phone in the case of an accident. I don't live in the Uk, but I see that a service like this would have many benefits.

    1. jphn37

      Re: Great Idea - In Case of Emergency

      There was a great idea - I think out of the UK - to add a contact "ICE". People react to emergencies differently, and perhaps your father has a heart condition but your mother is steady-as-she-goes. The idea was that if you got hit by bus, you had some control over which family member would be notified. I don't think this caught on, but I think it's an idea worth revisiting.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Great Idea - In Case of Emergency

        I think it caught on pretty well, almost everyone I know has a couple of ICE entries. My Samsung (Android) phone even has a "ICE" contacts group as standard.

  14. PeterStrong

    A Shrinking market

    Anyone without disabilities under 70 will be able to manage a normal smartphone. Anyone under 60 will have already used a mobile phone before and won't need the facilities offered by this phone. As the current generation grows older, the number of people who are unfamiliar with phone technology will dwindle. In ten years anyone under 80 will be able to manage a normal smartphone. Increased heath procedures also mean that growing old doesn't necessarily mean loss of abilities either. My partner's father is in his mid nineties and has significant loss of mental and physical ability. However he has someone to care for him who can always handle things like making a phone call for him. I can see this phone could be useful for those physically or mentally handicapped people who want to live independently, but normal old people won't need it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "normal old people won't need it."

      "In ten years anyone under 80 will be able to manage a normal smartphone."

      Utter rubbish.

      Lives in general may be getting longer, but it is not at all clear that they will all be healthy lives with full faculties, as you would already see if you opened your eyes and looked around you outside geekworld.

      "Normal" smartphones are barely satisfactory as they are today, except as fashion accessories. Judging by the (non)success of the Facebook phone, typical smartphones are more than adequate for their typical target market, the Facebook addict. But they are mostly far too complicated for the core function of being a trustworthy mobile phone (need recharging every day? overcomplicated menu system? touch operation?).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "normal old people won't need it."

        @AC

        As one knocking on the door of being 80 I have to disagree with you, it is not 'utter rubbish'.

        I use both a Nokia dumb phone and a Samsung Galaxy Ace smartphone, both of which get put on the charger once a week with general use. The Ace may get more frequent charging if I have to do a lot of e-mails.

        For me and many like me the smartphone is just another tool to let me continue my work and enjoyment of life. I know there are others of my age and younger that, through no fault of their own, find technology incomprehensible or unusable. Those are the ones that this proposal should be aiming at, not just everyone that is classed as old - many of us resent that classification.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "normal old people won't need it."

          "As one knocking on the door of being 80 .. I use both a Nokia dumb phone and a Samsung Galaxy Ace smartphone"

          Good for you. Now you and the author of the first response here and maybe others could please look around and ask yourself how many over 60s (or 70s, or 80s) aren't so fortunate as you are.

          There *are* people who don't get on with modern phones. There's plenty of evidence to support the theory that there are enough of them to support a niche market for simpler, phone-centric phones (e.g. Doro). I don't really care whether you call them "normal old people" or not, they exist, in significant quantities.

          Additionally, if there is a market for Mr Rockman's service, and the price is right, it will hopefully thrive.

          Meanwhile, how many people here know, or know of, someone who needs a lifeline pendant [1] at home, but who can't be persuaded to have one? I've known a few... would this service have helped? Who knows, but I wouldn't mind a chance to find out.

          ps

          Like you, I have a Samsung Galaxy Ace (mine's an Ace 2). I don't use it as my main phone because the battery life isn't reliable enough. I still use a Nokia which has better RF performance than any other phone I've tried, and which goes for a week or more without needing a recharge, even though (or perhaps because?) it is several years old.

          [1] Folk who don't know what one of these is are probably not really qualified to play an informed part in this discussion.

        2. handleoclast
          Meh

          Re: "normal old people won't need it."

          "For me and many like me the smartphone is just another tool to let me continue my work and enjoyment of life. I know there are others of my age and younger that, through no fault of their own, find technology incomprehensible or unusable. Those are the ones that this proposal should be aiming at, not just everyone that is classed as old - many of us resent that classification."

          You're right. Simon shou;d have targeted his proposal at the stupid/ignorant, not the old. Statistically the older amongst us do tend to be less technical but it's far from 100% correlation. The stupid (of all ages), however, are legion. I'm not talking about an inability to hack the linux kernel as a definition of stupidity, I'm talking about an inability to understand basic technology. Of my seven neighbours in my little cul-de-sac, only one of them knows how to reset a breaker in their consumer unit. Only one. Their ages range from 40 to 70 and it's the oldest who knows how to reset her breakers.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thinking of an elderly neighbour ...

    ... I find myself wondering if this service is 'simple' enough.

    While this neighbour is perfectly able to use a 'normal' and large button cradle type wired home phone there is no way that the biggish button remote control for the TV can be used. Whatever channel is set is the channel which is watched until the next time I visit and change the channel to whatever is wanted.

    This is someone who has not listened to a radio for years. I don't know why but if the TV is anything to go by then the radio with a couple of different little buttons is probably beyond use.

    Add in poor eyesight and using hearing aids (which only get put in when I go round because they can't managed all those fiddly little bits that go behind or in the ear) I can't see the 'right' button being pressed to request the operator and complete a coherent conversation.

    So, for this one elderly neighbour I would suggest adding another model to those on offer. A nice big phone that looks the same as an old fashioned cradle phone, with one single button in a contrasting colour and nowhere near where the phone is likely to be held in the hand. And a wire hanging out the end that goes near the mouth: perhaps this is where the button should go?

    Oh dear, I can't see anyone carrying such a device around with them.

    I would like to propose a different service. A big button phone (no flip or slide) with only one number in the phone book offering an operator service that takes messages and gets whoever to phone the person back some time in the near future. I can see a lot of people from all walks of life being interested in a message service that keeps dialing until the message gets delivered: a voice replacement of the telegraph, a virtual PA. (A godsend for anyone needing to phone their doctor's surgery to make an appointment.) No idea what would be a profitable charge for such a service but it needs to be way cheaper than £240 a year - nearer £20 a quarter for an average one message a week, with unused credit rolling forward.

    (I am almost tempted to volunteer my neighbour as a tester but I can't see it being used any more than the new worktop oven (3 buttons) that replaces a non functioning main oven (one button). Sigh.)

    1. sarahemmm

      Re: Thinking of an elderly neighbour ...

      "Red Buttons" are already available nationwide - my mother has one. It costs about £4/month and if she presses it, a speaker phone call is made to the answering service, who will call an ambulance or other assistance. Only available within the home, though, so I see this service as a useful extension.

      My mother (84) can cope with a mobile phone, but I have asked her if she would be interested in trialling the new service.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Thinking of an elderly neighbour ...

      >I can't see the 'right' button being pressed to request the operator and complete a coherent conversation. ...

      The Doro phone being offered, effectively only has one button on the outside of the clamshell, the normal keyboard requires the clam to be opened - so it might satisfy your requirements.

  16. Reallydo Wannaknow
    Meh

    imho

    It's a business model built on obsolescence and entropy ... Unless the level of technical no-how (as opposed to know-how) continues to advance in pace with the gains of technology, then the customer base will die out. Even so, assuming future old fogies will be as technically illiterate as our ancestors is a dodgy bet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: imho

      Old people starting to suffer dementia lose the ability to do many things they once did with great skill. My elderly neighbour lost the concept of recognising a different dial tone - then dialling the standard four digits to hear a caller's message left earlier.

      My own affliction is Diabetes Type 2. In the cold months the resulting poor circulation makes my fingers like pieces of wood - so they are constantly in gloves to try to keep them warm. Operating the small keys of a mobile, especially outdoors, then becomes difficult.

  17. jake Silver badge

    Quick telephone poll of some (16) of my elderly relatives ...

    ... who remember the Party Line on Noyo Hill, just outside Fort Bragg Californa, which was superseded by MaBell just about 1970 ... (I actually worked on this system when I was a young'un).

    All of 'em, all over 85 years old, say "Forget it ... I know how to use a proper telephone."

    None use an iFad/fAndroid/Crackberry ... nor do they need one.

  18. supermoore

    Scheduling challenges

    I like your idea, and have filled in the query form as I think I have a relative who would make use of this service.

    However, I can foresee call centre scheduling and costs being a big factor here. For this to work, you'll need to be answering requests almost instantaneously and when you're small the law of averages won't operate properly meaning you'll need to over staff. Who's providing the call centre?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scheduling challenges

      I ike others I'm sure that over time the client base would shrink over time, but the only dedicated hardware part of this is the mobile phone, and the hardware requirements for the phone would be pretty minimal so the hardware would be cheap, get cheaper and can be focused on long battery life. Write the software and then rent the rest:

      - Rent call centre numbers and operations.

      - Piggyback on other mobile service or just use whatever the customer chooses.

      - Rent cloud space

      - Pay for underlying VOIP bandwidth to call the contact

      They can even make use of voice recognition software to help speed up the transaction at the call centre, with the human there for reliability. But pure-human transactions should be relatively quick anyway given that the target market will likely have few contacts.

      If there's any real problem here it would be that you for very small contact pools, you could easily duplicate it on a smartphone. You're also likely selling to the target market via their close relatives, so I think a key to making it work in the long term is making it better than a smartphone by keeping overheads down, prices low, the phones simple, reliable and with long battery life. Avoid the usual scam-the-fogeys approach because I don't think it'd rake in enough before you'd get shut down amidst angry calls from relatives.

    2. Richard Cranium

      Re: Scheduling challenges

      > you'll need to over staff. Who's providing the call centre?

      One solution may be "cottage industry" as BT were doing (may still do) with directory enquiries where the operator might be a little old lady in a croft in the Shetlands. Negotiates "available times" and then paid a small

      hourly retainer plus a per-minute or per call fee.

  19. Caerwyn
    Thumb Up

    Concierge?

    What part of this idea has upset people the most? The targeting of a specific age group? - I admit that 'Phones for the elderly' isn't the marketing campaign I'd use. Or, is it the fact that the commenter can't think of anyone that *may* use such a service? - I can think of different types of people that may like to try it, they aren't 'elderly' either.

    This is an idea and if Mr Rockman has convinced someone to risk time and money on this venture let him run with it. Maybe it'll evolve into something else. Perhaps, instead, he should called it a concierge service...

    http://www.vertu.com/en/exclusive-services/vertu-concierge.aspx#exclusive-services-concierge

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Concierge?

      My first thoughts were of that Vertu service, too.... specifically, how does Mr Rockwell deal with 'mission creep'? Once could imagine people ringing up to have text messages sent to relatives, but also to have tickets booked on their behalf, the weather forecast read to them, or £20 put on a horse...

      I would imagine that to begin with, he'll want to avoid the headache of keeping payment details secure, and avoid the negative publicity that might come from 'offering exclusive deals to our clients".

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doro mobiles

    Yesterday I replaced my old mobile "clam" with a Doro 610 "clam". That Swedish company specialises in what I now call "OAP" mobiles - although "grandpa/grandma" would be a more universal tag.

    A fraction larger than my old tiny simple mobile - it met my new requirements for the ability to see larger text and hear a louder ring. Although I'm a fit 65year old, these are problems - the former due to health - the latter to hear when out walking. The louder received speech is also proving useful - partly volume but also the case shape. The latter is also easy to open when my fingers feel like sticks in the winter.

    However the mobile's configurable bells & whistles for various degrees of infirmity are staggering.

    In particular the large ICE button on the back can be configured for various multiple squeeze options to activate it. It then iterates through a series of preset numbers until one answers. I believe it can send a preset text message. Nominated numbers can even make configuration changes remotely by SMS.

    Sensibly this ICE button is placed just where a right-handed thumb would lie naturally - but that could trigger false activations.

    On my Doro 610 there is no GPS - but possibly some of their other "easy" models might have that location capability for remote interrogation?

    I can see that an "operator" option would be useful if a human operator was able to act like a "Piper" alert system - able to interact with the old person before triggering an emergency. The phones have Bluetooth - so it would appear feasible to develop (already?) a small emergency push that the person could wear round their neck. In fact it seems like a feasible extension for the "Piper" service.

    One possible problem is that on my Doro 610 you apparently still have to open the clamshell to listen/talk to someone.

    In my experience of elderly neighbours they accidentally trigger their "Piper" alarms - or do not wear the personal alarm push at all times. Old people have a child-like wilful tendency to disregard, or actively counter, measures put in place for their own safety.

    An elderly neighbour once exhausted my CLI monitor's 50 call memory by redialling every few minutes. I would get home from visiting her - then get a call a few minutes later asking why I hadn't been to see her that day. That's how short the memory can become with the onset of dementia.

  21. Juan Inamillion

    Well...

    My stepmother, at 92, is as bright as a button and most certainly neither 'thick' nor dribbling, however even she struggles with some of the menu intricacies of her mobile phone (incidentally, the third one after the first two were sold to her by over zealous salesmen...). Most of us under 60 (I'm not but then I'm special...) know about clicking on buttons relating to what's on the screen and understanding how those menu commands change according to what mode you're in. But that's because we've grown up with that technology.

    I was once in a phone shop (god know's why, appalling places...) and I witnessed a very agitated chap of about 40-45 loudly saying to an assistant "I just want a phone to make phone calls!" And every time the assistant tried to show him some whizz bang model he got angrier and angrier.

    I work in IT but I understand his (and the elderlies) point. It is highly offensive to suggest that they should all be able to cope. It precludes a lot of people who JUST DON'T WANT TO. It's called freedom of thought and choice.

    I think it's a great idea and I wish him luck.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well...

      "And every time the assistant tried to show him some whizz bang model he got angrier and angrier."

      I was pleasantly surprised when I went to our local Phones4U shop. The assistant listened to my request for a simple phone with a clam or slide action. They showed me three models at £9.99, £14.99, and £39.95/£59.95 - without pushing any one particularly.

      I selected the Doro 610 and they went through some of the useful OAP features for me. They even offered to show me how to use it. They set the clock, swapped my SIM - and didn't push the Orange top-up that I then bought. They checked out the offers' availability and I qualified for the lowest price of £39.95 - even though I would have been happy to pay the £59.95 upper price.

  22. David Male
    Thumb Up

    Horses for Courses

    Should really reply to the points made within the various threads above, but the fact that there are so many illustrates that the 'old' condition can have many and various symptoms.

    So considering my Aged Pater (92) I think this might be something worth a look. His symptoms are very poor eyesight (ARMD which means mainly peripheral vision making reading/keybaording difficult) hearing loss (double NHS hearing aids) and general senility (which makes grasping new concepts very difficult).

    We did buy him a cheap 'Big Button' mobile which could be programmed to call and text 4 pre-programmed numbers in order of priority on the press of a big red button on the reverse. But the biggest obstacle was the volume - as with even the so-called 'amplified' wired handsets, holding a conversation is impossible, and I don't see how this can be addressed in a mobile handset. Unless/until , as mentioned above, NHS hearing aids are bluetooth enabled - and even then I suspect the actual management of the connectivity will be beyond many.

    Initially I thought I would like to give this a try but, TBH, we would really only make use of it when he goes for a walk - and then only in an emergency.

    Presumably there is no reason why the back-end couldn't also handle calls from fixed line numbers? That might be an option with a well amplified hand-set.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's sunny outside today

    It's sunny outside today. I know it doesn't happen much.

    Guess what? My smartphone is useless outside because, like most LCDs, the display is unreadable in the sun, even in indirect sunlight.

    The compute power in a modern phone is marvellous but it doesn't fix everything. I seem to remember that the transreflective LCD on my iPAQ (over ten years ago) was quite readable in most sunshine. But obviously it wasn't 'retina resolution' so you couldn't use it to watch HD movies **in HD**. It cost a fortune too (not sure how much of that was the display).

    Wtf?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's sunny outside today

      Today was an ideal day to test my new Doro 610 for outdoor visibility. Indoors last night it had seemed too bright so I turned it down a couple of notches. In full sunlight today I had to turn it up to "high" - and then it was very readable. My old one was impossible to read in bright sunshine due to backlight dimness and small text. The default display is the time and date in large characters.

      Three small quibbles I have with the Doro 610. One is that it has "space" on the "zero" key - so I keep changing letter case by mistake. However as predictive text can be switched off - the three case changes are quick to iterate through. One of the readily available characters is a "new line" - which is useful for some messages' formats.

      The second quibble is that cursor movement in SMS only moves over characters - you can't move up/down lines.

      The third is that it is too easy to send an incomplete SMS when replying. There is no final "send?" query if you hit the wrong button when you meant to "backspace". Practice should fix that too.

    2. SpitefulGOD

      Re: It's sunny outside today

      Buy a nokia

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's sunny outside today

        "Buy a nokia"

        Excellent suggestion, and I've been there, done that, thank you. Had Nokias since the 6150 (maybe earlier). Still use an E7x as my default phone, smart enough for me (wifi, SD card, media player, mini office, Nokia Maps, Google Maps, interweb...). I've a modern(ish) smartphone too (Galaxy Ace 2) but don't use it as a phone, use it mainly instead of a portable DAB/MP3 gadget (the E7x internet radio doesn't quite match that). But it's not usable outside when it's sunny.

        Somewhere I managed to acquire a 3310 too, which is another classic Nokia phone.

        Unfortunately despite their undoubted attractiveness, none of the Nokias I've had *quite* fit the requirements for a Simple Easy Phone. E.g. the buttons can be a bit too small. They've been pretty good other than that though. Shame about where Nokia have ended up.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Big buttons

          The following link is for a big buttoned flip phone, with fairly large spaces between the keys. I am not recommending it purely because I haven't owned or used it - but the dummy unit I picked up in a shop suggests that it might be worthy of further consideration for people who claim to have 'sausage fingers':

          http://www.amazon.co.uk/Motorola-Gleam-Sim-Free-Mobile-Phone/dp/B006Z3D2SI

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: It's sunny outside today - Buy a nokia

        The irritation is that the only screen technology that has been shown to be fully usable outdoors and indoors is e-ink, add in a reading lamp (and ambient light sensor) and the range of lighting conditions in which it can be easily read increases still further.

        For 'basic' phones that primarily require the screen to display text, e-ink is more than sufficient - okay we can debate and cite research over whether black on white, white on black, amber on black etc. are more readable.

        The only explanations I can offer for the absence of e-ink displays in phones todate are that such displays in phone sizes are either not in production or are relatively expensive compared to 'normal' LCD displays. Hopefully the prototype phones demonstrated at Mobile World Congress back in February are a sign of things to come.

        The Fuss Free Phone service does mean that a user can make calls using one hand whilst walking down a country lane in bright sunlight and using the eyes and other hand to direct traffic - try doing that with a smartphone....

  24. Spoddyhalfwit

    My mum and dad both have Doro phones, which they like.

    Unfortunately I still can't get ever get through to them because they always have their phones turned off... Only turning them on when they want to make a call. They just cant grasp that you can leave the phone on for hours or indeed days in case someone wants to ring you. So they need to have no Off button on this phone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "So they need to have no Off button on this phone."

      What I would find useful is a "curfew" timer function as part of the Doro 610 alarm options Text messages can be picked up any time later. Missed voice calls also give a text indication.

      The mobile doesn't have to be switched on for the alarm to work. So it would be useful to have the phone automatically switched off for a period in the night. Opening the case, or pressing the ICE button, would power it up during this period. Whether that would also end the curfew for that night should be another option. As a side-effect this would extend the time between charges.

  25. itzman
    FAIL

    Fun with father in laws 'senior phone'

    I mean there it was - massive keys, and not many of them.

    But what did they actually do?

    :Luckily it came with an instruction manual, the size of a playing card.

    By scanning it at 2400 DPI and reprinting a small part of it on an A4 sheet we were able to figure it out eventually.

    I mean every octogenarian has access to a scanner and a laser printer and GIMP, don't they?

    Epic FAIL.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So far all the discussion has been about demographics and outbound calls.

    What I'd like is an effective spam call filter. TPS is widely ignored and Indian call centres our outside the reach of the ineffective UK ICO. The elderly are more vulnerable to many of the telephone scams - like "We've got a delivery for you but the sender under paid for delivery, there's £2 due so we need your credit card details..."

  27. dorsetknob
    Thumb Up

    My Father is a Diabetic, Blind in one eye with reduced vision he also has just had a lower limb amputation

    He is 84 years of age

    some of the meds he is Taking cause constipation and other side effects

    he takes medicinal laxatives to help manage this

    He Has Very much reduced Mobility

    He NEEDS Assistance to use a Toilet/commode

    He also suffers from Seizures managed by medication including warfren

    this Phone and service would be of great use to him (and myself as his Carer).

    As i Cannot be there 24/7 ( I Have to do shopping collect medication liaise with hospital and other medical services and other chores which take me out of the House + all the things i need to do for myself), the ability for him to connect to myself or other family members to give him help when he needs it at the press of one button and the assistance of an operator to dial the appropriate person be that

    myself

    another family member

    the local Doctor's surgery

    the District community nurseing service

    Emergency Services

    So yes i applied to Participate in the Beta Program

    With an ever increasing AGEING Population this Sort of Service WILL BECOME MORE MAINSTREAM

    Wish Simon good luck with his new Venture Hope its Successful and that i and my father get to become part of the Beta Test Program

  28. handleoclast
    Holmes

    Asterisk sucks

    Unlike others, I'm not going to offer an opinion on the merit of the idea itself. I've been wrong enough times in the past (twitter? srsly?) that my opinion about the merits of the idea is probably wrong. Well, it would probably be wrong if I thought about the idea long enough to form an opinion in the first place.

    What I will say is that asterisk is Krap with a special K. Yeah, it works most of the time but the innards are a horrible mess meaning that every so often it has an epileptic fit. Asterisk WILL lose calls. Try freeswitch instead. Don't bother trying to run either of them in a VM no matter what the docs (and testimonials) say - you'll get stuttering even when the host machine is at minimal load.

    Other than that, go for it. Maybe you'll make a lot of money, maybe you'll lose a lot of money. But asterisk guarantees you'll have problems, so don't do that.

  29. nick_stokie

    Also for getting past call menu options

    I like the sound of the 'operator' element more than the mobile bit. My grandma is capable of getting to the landline phone and has the main ten numbers programmed into speeddial. For her, a mobile would get lost too easily (perhaps something else to consider for some clients). Her problem comes when calling a company, including local doctor, and trying to navigate the menu options in anything like quick enough order (ie hear the options, remember the one you wanted, find that button on the keypad, press it and then try to listen to the next list before it times out or you've hit the wrong button/twice).

    Combining the operator bit (standalone fee, no mobile) with something like pleasepress1.com could allow her to ask the operator "to make a doctors appointment" and the operator fights through the menu options until a human responds.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agree about the target market bit

    I think the main take-away from most comments so far is that there IS a market for this, but that saying it's for 'old' people is too simplistic. (Having said that, targeting it at 'stupid' people doesn't seem like much of a win either!). There are technophobes of all ages, and people who just don't "get" it, even though they can be very smart in other areas.

    And as someone said, there are people who just don't want to waste brain cycles on learning the meanders of a menu system for something that's just a bloody phone after all.

    My wife is 45. She's now on her 3rd mobile. The second phone was 'too fiddly' (buttons and text too small). The first was the best: good old Nokia 6110, but she got too much flak from friends for her 'phone box'. I thought the latest was a win because it's dual SIM (good for roaming), and has a 'real' keyboard. But she still phones me up to send text messages for her (from my phone, confuses people no end). And as for activating/deactivating or swapping between SIMs... People keep telling her she should get an iPhone, but as first line support, I'm not too keen...

    It's not that she's stupid, she just doesn't have a brain for retaining that kind of stuff. I can explain exactly what she has to do, she can do it, but two hours later it's already gone. Yet she knows the birthdays of all of her extended family and most of our friends by heart; can tell you exactly who gave which present to any of our kids in the last 10 years; and can suss-out the intricacies of a relationship between new acquaintances before I've even learnt their names.

    I'll not be suggesting test driving this service to her, but I am now going to head off and take a peek at these Doro phones...

    AC for obvious reasons.

  31. Nifty
    FAIL

    Doro are so behind the curve... but then so is the concept of a phone-only for the elderly

    My 83 yo mother has a landline that she happily uses to switch between free weekend calls in the BT package and 18185 for calls abroad. She carries a dead simple Nokia mobile when out but always has a carer around then.

    So firstly, the preconception that an adapted mobile is what the elderly need is a bit out.

    Now, my mother is totally computer-phobic but does has WiFi internet plumbed in at her home for visiting relatives.

    She is very alive to the opportunities that the Internet offers and often gets rels to do research into medical issues and do online shopping for her. She is impressed by tablets and is interested in the example of a friend of hers who has set up an iPad on a rock solid stand with just one icon - Skype - on the 1st home screen for her 90 yo mother - for staying in touch.

    So we've been looking at what Doro Android phones and especially the Doro Experience Android tablet app can offer, as it appears to offer a fairly compelling mix of simplicity and remote control by a tech savvy relative.

    Had to hold back:

    - No Skype or any video conferencing available in the App!

    - Software costs nearly as much as a bargain basement tablet!

    - Off putting licensing model of £40 upfront and annual renewal fees

    - App has to be sent to you in a box - not available on Play store - duh!

    The field is ripe for exploitation - Doro pioneered this but a independent Android app coder could leapfrog their business model overnight with a better offering.

  32. HelenaHandcart

    My father is in his eighties and has an iPod touch which was a gift. He uses it mainly for music but occasionally for games, maps and email. He could clearly use a high-end smartphone but would be completely deterred by the cost. It's not a matter of whether or not he could afford it but having grown up during WW2 and the following years of rationing he has a very strong 'waste not want not' ethic. He simply would not see an iPhone or equivalent as value for money.

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