This world is one that is full of problems. Some of the problems have simple solutions, and some of them have difficult solutions. What bothers me most is when a simple solution to a simple problem goes unimplemented. One particular problem is that senior citizens in this country own cellular phones and can’t use them.
Look at both of my grandmothers and their friends. They are all masters of using the plain telephone, but none of them can use the cellular phone properly. Some of them can make calls and do nothing else, but even then most of them have trouble. And every time they want to do something like change the ring tone they ask some children or grandchildren to do it for them.
There are other problems too. While the smaller phones are more portable the older people often cannot hit the smaller buttons, and definitely not in any efficient manner. They also have problems reading the text on the small screens even if they knew how to navigate the menus. The point is that most senior citizens only want a cellular phone to make calls. Primarily they save that for emergencies. These people have lived most of their lives not being able to contact anyone easily, so they don’t really have a large need to contact someone from their car or the grocery store unless it is extra important.
The reason this hasn’t been implemented is multi-fold. First off not many senior citizens buy phones as it is. So making a phone especially for them would cost a lot and probably not sell very well. However, I think this is a catch-22 and that the reason they don’t buy phones is because of these problems. And if a phone was made and marketed to the older people in our population it would sell like hotcakes. I imagine that even reluctant seniors would receive them as gifts from family and friends. The second reason is that phone companies make most of their money on things like e-mailing pictures for 25 cents and text messaging. That’s why they give away boatloads of minutes for almost nothing is so they can lure you into the other services with higher profit margins. Seniors will only use their phones to make calls and will only do it very rarely. To solve this problem the phone has to come with a pay as you go plan where they only pay for the minutes they use at a reasonable rate like 3-5 cents per minute anywhere in the country. If it is cheaper than the long distance cost of the POTS(plain old telephone service) then they will use it and it will be profitable. Sales of the phone itself could also be profitable as you will see.
So what kind of phone will it be? First off, it will be large. It should be about the size of most cordless handsets. There should only be 13 buttons on the phone. The same 12 buttons that are on normal telephones plus a power button. What about send and end buttons you say? How about voice activation. Saying hello and goodbye will pick up and hang up the phone. There are problems with that as well, but it is infinitely more intuitive to those of old age than more buttons. All buttons should have incredibly large print on them and also be large enough to easily hit with a clumsy finger. There should be no screen, they don’t need caller id or care. They will receive calls so infrequently that all they need is a very loud ring accompanied by a very vigorous vibration to let them know about an incoming call. Lastly their needs to be two LED lights. One of the lights should indicate strength of service and the other should indicate whether the phone is on or off. When they purchase the phones the in-store representatives should be responsible in instructing the elderly people as to how exactly the phone works and what the LEDs mean. They should not let them leave without knowing for sure that the people know how to use them. If they try to make a call while the phone is off and don’t know what’s wrong then customers will be lost due to their own incompetence. Lastly, the phones need very large docking stations for charging. I know that the only thing you need to charge a phone is a wire, but even something simple like that can confuse the old people. Put a large plastic stand on the end of the wire to dock the phone in. Oh, that reminds me, it probably needs a battery indicator also, doh. Anyway, as I mentioned before the phone itself will be cheap. Without a screen or camera or any advanced features the phone will be cheap as dirt. The only problem I can foresee is that the phones will only be a viable product for a short time. When this generation of seniors passes away the next generation will already be fully trained in the use of the cellular phone and will dislike the phone designed for today’s seniors. But I think the good that can come of producing this phone is not something we should overlook. Heck, we could probably make them by recycling old discarded phones into new chassis. Let’s get prototyping so grandma can call her grandchildren again.