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Seniors ditch old tech, call on smartphones

Seniors ditch old tech, call on smartphones
At the outset, Nasreen Fatima wasn't sold on using a smart phone to stay in touch with her daughters who are abroad. "The fonts and keys are tiny," says the 62-year-old who prefers her PC. Daughter Insia says Nasreen has been a quick adapter."Days after she started using the phone, she was sharing pictures of my sister's wedding shopping," she says, while Nasreen explains, "Once you start using the phone, you get used to it."

Curiosity , a desire to ditch low-priced feature phones and the need to remain connected to their children's lives are prompting today's seniors to switch over to smartphones.Tired of being tagged as technophobic, the elderly -who constitute 7.5% of India's population, according to 2001 Census, and are expected to touch 12.40% by 2026 -are fiercely independent, intent on staying active and view mastering the mobile as one way of doing so. Whether it's checking Facebook or email, playing games like Candy Crush, conversing on Skype or WhatsApp-ing, smartphones are stopping them from slowing down.

A study by Nielsen Informate Mobile Insights shows the number of older smartphone users has practically doubled in 2013 -in 2012, 40plus users were 5%; by 2013 it went up to 9%. Bangalorebased AZ Research's nationwide study of 1,900 senior citizens (aged 51 above) in 2013 revealed three in five elderly are using smartphones today , a trend largely driven by the insecurity of living alone.

Encouraged by the growing user base, Mitashi has launched India's first smartphone for seniors on November 1.The decision to launch a smartphone for an age group targeted by feature or bar phones -Philip's Xenium X2566 is most recent but iBall, Reliance, Magitel and Swingcon all have senior-friendly models -was a calculated one. The company believes that 3G connectivity, that only smartphones offer, is important to this user base. "Apps are driving seniors to adapt to this technology," says Adnan Chara, vice-president at Mitashi Edutainment Pvt Ltd.

There are several apps designed specifically for seniors, ranging from those tracking health issues like sugar and blood pressure or medication reminders to e-books.

At an advanced age, the eyes tend to disassociate with text or pictures, making it difficult to squint at tiny icons.

Feature phones currently available in this segment have larger keyboards and fonts, but smartphone tech addresses other requirements. "The hardware allows a bright screen, flexible font size, easy access to features like address book or SMS and vocal commands," Girish Dhanakshirur of IBM India says.

Among its features, Mitashi Play Senior Friend lists a large font dialer, contact list and message display as well as FM radio, dual sim, dual camera and SOS button. A touch screen can be challenging to those with wavering or unsteady hands, but Mitashi offers a flexible font that can be enlarged to thumbnail size and its keypad features alphabets and numbers in different colours for an easy read.

The SOS feature is standard on senior phones -iBall Aasaan, the first feature phone designed for the elderly in 2011, introduced the button that when pushed, emits a loud sound to alert those around to an emergency and auto-dials up to five pre-entered numbers. At Rs 4,999 the Mitashi Android phone is priced higher than feature phones in this category , which are all under Rs 4,000 but Chara believes for the tech, it's a bargain.

Seniors are eager to embrace new technology , as long as they are properly trained in its use. Many even make notes on paper to remind them of its use. After familiarizing herself, Indu Dwivedi, 64, formed a WhatsApp group with her sisters, who live in Bhopal and Mumbai. "It's a faster way of catching up," she concludes.

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