With the U.S. smartphone market already halfway penetrated – 78 percent of those age 15-64 use a smartphone, according to Flurry data – it leaves room for one last push for what stands to be the most fought-after demographic: the elderly.
Audiences outside of that notable 50 percent category are, predictably, thought to be from families making less than $50,000 per year. Couple that with the obvious technological hurdles, and simple arithmetic suggests a large number of elderly Americans likely exist who may take an interest in the new-age tech, but lack the means to access it. The growing number of seniors who have admitted to playing computer and mobile games is also a clue that technology is not just for people of a certain age. As such, companies are – or should be -- scrambling to retarget their marketing campaigns and make phones user-friendly in an attempt to break down generational barriers.
And, to be fair, some companies are already leading the charge.
Global technology company Fujitsu, for example, has developed the Raku-Raku Smartphone, which allows users to input their age from the get-go, automatically customizing the experience of the phone. For older Americans, it slows down the speech of callers and lowers the audio frequency range – or, in other words, it translates words in Matrix-style slow-mo. There’s also an always-on “Help” feature in the form of a question mark that pops up when any new program is opened.
And perhaps the most remarkable feature of the phone, is that it doesn’t rub it in the face of seniors. There are no obnoxiously large physical buttons, nor is it assumed that the user of the phone will be near-deaf – it merely adjusts based on the needs of the person wielding the device. The touch screen is also crafted to be ultrasensitive and highlight desired frames upon the slightest touch, so as to ensure seniors aren’t fumbling around trying to make their phone work.
Pantech, meanwhile, has teamed with AT&T to launch a line of “Flex” products designed with the elderly in mind. The devices use an ever-so-slightly altered Android operating system – “Easy Mode” – that streamlines the navigation process by compiling most-used apps on the main screen and enlarging on-screen commands, letters and numbers. Moreover, if the user decides to switch to the basic Android system – in this case, “Ice Cream Sandwich” -- a simple setting change can make this happen.
Pantech and Fujitsu are giving seniors what they have, until recently, not been offered: options.
In fact, Apple and Samsung – the two smartphone makers with the largest percentages of market share -- could learn a thing or two from the Fujitsu-Pantech example.
Apple has yet to provide an alternative smartphone that caters toward a senior market, and Samsung has only unofficially supplied an option for its elderly audiences in the form of the pseudo-smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note, which boasts a 5.3-inch AMOLED display designed for stylus use. But even this option would run a senior citizen anywhere from $300 to $550.
Despite the abundant earnings of the industry’s juggernaut duo, they may find themselves playing catch-up as Pantech and Fujitsu snatch-up the 40.3 million elderly adults in the U.S.
Bio: Brandon Baker is a caffeine-addicted, cat-loving, Philadelphia-based journalist with a passion for narrative writing, the perfect cup of joe.