Is Touchscreen Fatigue Settling in for Older Smartphone Users?

By Steve Anderson February 21, 2014

One of the great things about being older is perspective. This simple gift allows the older set to take a look back at what was, and compare it to what is to gain insight on what may be to come. Though this gift often produces longing for the way things used to be, it can also provide some interesting conclusions. One such conclusion came about from an emporia Telecom study, which discovered that users 40 to 65 miss having physical buttons when it comes to smartphones.

A little over a third of survey respondents—35 percent—responded this way, and more than one in five over-40 respondents said there were difficulties involved in both dialing numbers and writing text messages on a touchscreen, and nearly 30 percent reported that, when using a touchscreen mobile device, there were more frequent mistakes in dialing numbers than there were without. Perhaps most telling of all, 38 percent of surveyed users wanted to stick with a traditional phone packing buttons.

The CEO of emporia Telecom, Eveline Pupeter, offered a bit of comment on the survey, saying “Just because almost every new phone is a touchscreen, it does not mean that everyone likes the format, particularly those over the age of 40.” Indeed, it was also noted that, after about the age of 40, people start to lose manual dexterity, with each day bringing just slightly less feeling in fingers than was previously had, having an impact on the effects of touchscreen use.

It could be said, additionally, that those over 40 are simply more used to buttons than the younger set, having been raised on phones with buttons or potentially even phones with rotary dials. Pupeter was less  than enthused about the possible psychological differences, noting that a quarter of tablet sales go to the over-55 market segment, suggesting that it's more an issue of touchscreen size. Meanwhile, emporia Telecom is bringing a variety of devices that not only bring in a touchscreen, but also a physical keyboard to the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, attempting to illustrate the value of devices that can offer the best of both worlds.

But aside from issues of psychology, there are, as Pupeter noted, also mechanical issues to consider. Phones with buttons boast an important tactile feedback, as it confirms to the user that a button has been pressed. Given that a QWERTY keyboard on a touchscreen compresses keys down into a space that's about 0.75 of a centimeter for each key, that can be tricky for someone with full manual dexterity. For someone with diminished capacity on that front, the difference can be especially pronounced.

On a certain level, this makes sense. Just last December, we saw the Typo keyboard emerge from the company that Ryan Seacrest co-founded, and it was far from the only such issue out there. Fleksy came out not too long after the Typo emerged, and several other such devices are augmenting touchscreen devices. Of course, there's something to be said for simplicity, and a phone that provides what a phone with a special add-on did before could be regarded as a simpler tool overall.

The end result here is that there are likely to be more competitors in what is an already very competitive space. Only time will tell if emporia Telecom has solved the right problem with its new smartphone line, or if users are just fine with a few add-ons to bring a phone more in line with a user's needs and desires.




Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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