Two European Firms Focus Attention on Smartphones for the Elderly

By Tracey E. Schelmetic February 17, 2011

If you've got a smartphone, chances are, you're under 50 and techno-obsessed, right?

Not necessarily, if some of the newer apps – and the demographic they serve – are any representation. Or, at least, not exclusively. According to AFP, two rival firms are vying for a largely ignored chunk of the app market: apps for the elderly.

Older users tend to have different needs and wants out of smartphones. Rather than Twitter (though no doubt some do that, too) and location-based services like Foursquare, they are likely using smartphones largely for phone communications, but also for the helpful apps designed for older people. A few apps can turn the phone into a nighttime flashlight that flashes when the phone rings. One app allows you to use the phone as a pull-out pad for writing down notes with an actual, real pen. And, there are apps that remind patients when to take medication.

“In Spain, France, Britain or Italy, there are 10 to 15 million people aged 60 or more,” said Christophe Yerolymos, head of Austrian group Emporia's French subsidiary. “Of these 15 million, about half don't use mobile phones,” he added. Even among the half that do, nearly two-thirds had devices that were not appropriate for their needs, he said at his stand at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Emporia, celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the Swedish group Doro, which launched mobiles for seniors in 2007, share a market which is otherwise mostly ignored, says AFP.

Perhaps it shouldn't be. The two companies offer phones that are the same size and style of other mobiles but with more readable screens, larger buttons and compatibility with hearing aids.

The market is not exactly overcrowded with only two companies, said Yerolymos, although Britain's Vodafone made an attempt with mixed success in the mid-2000s with its Vodafone Simply.

Emporia's customers are dynamic people who surf the Internet but mostly from home, Yerolymos said.

The Austrian business, which offers mobiles for 50 to 100 euros ($70 to $140), expects to move one million devices between 2010 and 2011, and twice that number in the following year. Doro boasts of 1.2 million sales since 2007.

Focused more on health, Doro offers two models: the Easy, which is a lot like the simple-to-use Emporia phones; and the Plus, which has four buttons, A, B, C, and D with memorized numbers along with an SOS button.

Ryan Trendell, head of Doro's British business said the Plus was “very specialized, very, very easy to use. Maybe for someone who is 80, 90, maybe someone suffering with dementia or loss of memory.”

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

TechZone360 Contributor

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