Seniors, Smartphones, Phablets, & my Mother-in-Law

by Chris W. Rea on

In this morning’s news:

The first article mentions that while more seniors have mobile phones, they tend not to be smartphones. The second article mentions how “phablets” (a portmanteau of “phone” and “tablet”) are becoming more popular.

I’m interested in mobile device penetration statistics, and seniors could be the latest of the late adopters — the “final frontier.” Once seniors have adopted smart mobile devices in large numbers, perhaps then one could say such devices are ubiquitous. The articles show interesting points, and I have some thoughts that relate the two. The second article didn’t specifically mention the senior demographic.

First, people soon to enter the senior demographic are likely to have recently worked, or are still working. I’d wager many office workers in the group, over the past few years, are likely to have benefited from an employer-provided smartphone. It’s hard to go back to a basic phone once you’ve taken advantage of a smartphone.

I expect seniors retiring soon are more likely to want a smartphone of their own, vs. seniors that retired earlier and didn’t use a smartphone at work. For this reason, adoption in this age group ought to accelerate substantially in a short time frame.

Second, I’d like to relate the case of my mother-in-law, already retired. Two years ago, she acquired my wife’s first-gen iPad. To stay sharp, my mother-in-law enjoys playing puzzle games, and the iPad is convenient enough to carry around the house.

Fast forward: my mother-in-law had trouble with her mobile phone — a cheap basic prepaid variety. To replace it, she herself suggested an Android phone, one with a big screen, a phablet. I asked why. She mentioned a friend had such a phone and she wanted one, too. iPhone? Too small. So she bought a second-hand Samsung Galaxy Note II.

While that anecdote is one data point, I offer up these ideas with respect to the senior demographic’s adoption of smart mobile devices:

  • Reductions in cost, and the increased availability of second-hand devices, are making smartphones and tablets more appealing in general, and specifically to seniors, who don’t care to have the latest and greatest devices, but are seeing the advantage of having one, especially for games, and to keep in touch other than by voice.

  • Without a carrier-imposed data contract, second-hand devices are also appealing to seniors who don’t care for an expensive data plan. My mother-in-law continues to use her low-cost prepaid plan with her “new” phone and is fine with that. She knows about Wi-Fi and is content to have Internet access in only a few places. The lack of it doesn’t prevent her from enjoying many games and apps.

  • Seniors may find the phablet form-factor appealing for the larger screen size.

I’m curious what new kinds of apps we might see developed as mobile devices become more popular in this demographic.

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