A generation that tech almost forgot

Technology changes faster than seniors who could keep up. Ian Hosking, an expert in design for the elderly at the University of Cambridge’s engineering design centre, believes we need to get the basics right first.

“There are some very tech-savvy older people around, but there is clearly a large cohort of people who feel excluded by technology. They find it a bit impenetrable,” he says.

Only 50% of seniors age 75+ even have Internet access. So first there is a technology ownership gap, then an access gap, then finally a training gap that must be closed.

The assumption…

It is easy to assume that older people will find a gadget as simple to use as you do. But, actually, it is not as simple as that.

Using touchscreens may come naturally enough to a toddler but not necessarily for an older person – the nerves in the finger become less sensitive with age, meaning older people may “touch” far more heavily.

And tests suggest that if an older person has a slight tremor, it can be registered on a device as a swipe rather than a touch.

“It is these subtle issues that erode confidence and cause confusion,” says Chris Bignell, a spokesman for Emporia Telecom, which has designed a smartphone specifically for older people.

Brush past the hurdle

You can teach your smartphone student the basics he or she will use probably 90% of the time and offer the tools to learn more advanced tricks at their own pace.

Apple Vs Android

Apple Vs Android
IMHO, the second decision is do you want Apple (iphone) or Android.
Now this is a major decision that will affect the rest of your life. And like that illusive butterfly, it may change the future of the world. (Just kidding).For those of you not in the know, this refers to the OS(operating system) of the smartphone. All Apple products use iOS (iphone operating system). Most other smartphones use Android which was basically originated by Google.

Apple iOS is a proprietary OS owned and developed by Apple and available only on Apple mobile devices.
Well designed
User friendly
Apps(Applications) are vetted by Apple so likely to work
Devices are Apple so OS upgrades will have few problems

Limited hardware choices

Android is an open source OS originally developed by Google but can be used by anyone and is available on many devices from many manufacturers.
More hardware choices
Wider price range

OS upgrades controlled by smartphone manufacturer and possibly service provider so may be delayed or not available.
Apps(Applications) are not vetted, so inconsistent quality and may not work.

For myself, I did a cost-benefit analysis and decided an Android device was best for my needs.

Set Up the Phone For Them

Some things you can set up in advance and then show them later if necessary, while other things like navigating around the phone and downloading apps are probably best demonstrated in person.

For example, you can insert the SIM card (if needed), set up a new Gmail or iTunes account, turn on screen lock, and install basic apps without the person looking over your shoulder. The Android and iOS startup screens conveniently walk you through setting up the new device (if you’re giving someone your old phone, set it back to its factory settings first), but here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Save their login information. After setting up their new user account for iTunes or Google, add their login information to your password manager, because at some point in the future, you’ll need to retrieve it for them. Password managers like LastPass and 1Password can help you generate a long password that’s pronouncable and thus easy for them to remember.
  • Enable Find My Phone. During the setup process in iOS, make sure you choose yes to activating Find My iPhone. Android users can go into the Google Settings app and Android Device Manager to enable remote wipes. Both of these will help locate the phone if it gets stolen or, perhaps more likely, lost under a seat cushion.
  • Set up the lock screen. Add a passcode lock to secure the device (in iOS, this is under Settings > General > Passcode Lock. In Android, it’s Settings > Security > Screen lock). Alternately, if the phone has a fingerprint scanner (like the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S5), you can set that up with the person (fun!). You can also add owner information in the same Security screen in Android and/or set the wallpaper up to add emergency contact information to the lock screen.

Set Up the Most Important Shortcuts

You probably know which apps the person will most likely use regularly, so put them front and center on the home screen and favorites tray, if they’re not already arranged there. The obvious ones are the web browser, contacts, photos, camera, calendar, maps, and messaging apps. I set up shortcuts to important contacts on my mother-in-law’s Android home screen, because she’s going to use her smartphone mostly as a phone, and that one-touch dialing is a big deal for her.

For further tips, here are our basic setup instructions for Android and iPhone or iPad, as well as more in-depth Android and iOS guides.

Show Them What All the Buttons Do

There are two kinds of people in this world: The kind who instantly push all of the buttons to see what they do, and the kind who want you to tell them which buttons to press. I’m going to be ageist here, but babies and toddlers seem to fall into the former category (they’ll not only push the buttons, they’ll smash them and gnaw at them, perhaps learning something along the way), while folks more careful around expensive technology (i.e., your parents and grandparents) are more wary of doing something wrong by pushing random buttons.

The first thing to teach is what the main buttons do: How to turn the device on and off, raise or lower the volume, and get back the home screen. These are the three buttons common to both Android and iPhone devices. You’ll also want to show them the ports: Where to plug in the charger, headphones, and any removable media. (This might seem absurdly obvious, but few people actually read the manual and beginners won’t know these things off the bat.)

Android devices also add a standard set of buttons on the bottom: Home, back, menu, and (sometimes) search. You’ll have to demonstrate what those are for too. For example, “This back arrow takes you to the last level in an app or back a page when browsing this web” or “This double box button shows you all of the apps you have open.”

Teach Them How to Get Around and Use Apps

Swiping, tapping, tapping and holding are new skills for people who’ve never had a touch device. You’ll need to demonstrate how to move between screens, switch between apps, swipe down for the notifications bar (and search on iOS), and how to move things around by touching and dragging.


The built-in apps you should help them play around with include:

  • Phone and contacts: how to add contacts, answer an incoming call, and even how to hang up the phone (Seriously, don’t take anything for granted.)
  • Camera: how to focus, take a photo, share photos via email or text message, and where the photos end up
  • Email: how to send an email, move emails around, create attachments
  • App Store: how to search it, download apps, where they end up
  • Notification Center: what it shows you
  • Settings: how to quickly access main settings in iOS Control Center or from Android’s top bar
  • Messages: how to send and read text messages




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