Smartphones and older users remain a tough match

Smartphones and older users remain a tough match

Smartphones have gone from a luxury or a convenience to a necessity or a lifeline, but people over 50 are both less likely to own the devices and more likely to feel left out by them .

Why is this important: More than ever, services and businesses, from banks to doctors’ surgeries and restaurants to airlines, expect users to have access to smartphones, but many older people still lack digital skills and the products don’t hold up. always consider their needs.

By the numbers: A December 2021 survey by AARP found that three in four people over the age of 50 say they rely on technology to stay connected, but 42% say technology isn’t designed for everyone. ages.

  • “It’s a big number and a big deal,” Michael Phillips, AARP’s director of technology strategy and partnerships, told Axios.

The big picture: Many new features introduced in Apple and Google products, such as iOS’s collision detection and Android’s live translation, aim to save lives or actively improve in-person interactions in real time.

  • But older users are still hesitant to jump on the smartphone bandwagon. A Pew Research Center study earlier this year found that 96% of American adults between the ages of 18 and 29 own a smartphone, compared to 61% of those 65 and older.

Defenders worry especially that these older non-users might be missing out on the ways in which health apps associated with phones could improve their lives.

  • “If people don’t trust technology, they won’t use it, even though it will help them live a little healthier life,” says Phillips.
  • A February University of Michigan survey found that 28% of adults aged 50 to 80 said they used at least one mobile health app, while 56% said they had never used one.
  • The survey found that seniors who reported excellent, very good or good health were more likely to use health apps than those in fair or poor health.

Yes, but: Making devices and operating systems easier to use for more people has become a priority for the tech industry, and there has been progress.

  • Along with the now standard visual and audio accessibility customizations such as text size, zoom, and audio assists, phone makers have further extended the capabilities of phones with additional voice interfaces and additional peripherals.
  • Apple’s new iOS 16 also added accessibility options for older users with features like door detection and live captions.

  • “While we have a lot to accomplish in this area, we are committed to making accessibility a core consideration in Android product design,” Google’s Angana Ghosh, director of product management at Android, told Axios. “We partner with communities to learn first-hand what their challenges are and how we can best serve them.”

What they say : “Technical issues exist in smartphones for the elderly…[but] the benefits are always a huge plus,” Debra Berlyn, executive director of the Project to Get Older Adults onLine, told Axios. “The smartphone is an invaluable tool for aging.”

Between the lines: A new feature is only useful to older users if they know it exists and can find it easily.

  • Accessibility tools and modes are often hidden in sub-menus or obscured by confusing names.
  • “Ease of discovery can be especially important for people who may not identify as having a disability, but who would benefit from using accessibility tools,” says Google’s Ghosh.

Reality check: Proponents worry that UI and experience designers learn their biases in school.

  • “Inclusive design really needs to happen in universities and teach people how to design more inclusively,” Phillips said.

The bottom line: For older users to fully embrace the smartphone, they will need to become familiar with the technology and believe that they can find uses for it that will improve their lives.

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