Smartphones for seniors: Innovative or insulting?
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The founders with elderly relatives. Photo Credit: E2C

Not everyone over 65 needs a smartphone. For tech-phobic seniors, E2C’s smartphone could fit the bill. But at what age is this device useful?

There’s a prevalent stereotype on the Internet that older people don’t get technology.

“Nothing freaks old people out like Internet multitasking,” reads an article in Cosmopolitan entitled “20 Basic Tech Things Old People Just Don’t Understand.”

While much of this boils down to blatant ageism, there is some truth to the idea that older people are slower to adopt new technologies. For instance, a Pew Research Study on Older Adults and Technology found that while 78 percent of Americans over 65 own cell phones (compared to 92 percent in the population as a whole), only 22 percent own smartphones or tablets (compared to 55 percent in the population as a whole).

Amir Alon was a bachelor living near his 80-something grandmother in Tel Aviv when he had two flashes of insight. First, he saw how isolating it was for his grandmother not to be part of the family conversations on WhatsApp and Facebook. Second, he realized that the world’s population is aging at a rapid pace. “In Japan, 25 percent of the population is over 65. In America, it’s 14 percent and these numbers are set to grow.”

“Most telephone manufacturers don’t look at older people. If anything, they look at younger people,” Alon explained to Geektime.

A business idea is born

So Alon’s company E2C, which he co-founded and serves as its CEO, created a basic smartphone for seniors. This is a phone that accommodates some of the physical and cognitive declines of aging: reduced hearing, reduced visual acuity and memory loss. It also makes it extremely simple to use the Internet, make phone calls and use apps, so even if you missed the Internet revolution or never worked at a keyboard in your life, you can get up to speed.

The phone also has different modes to accommodate varying kinds of users. For example, an advanced user can scroll through their contacts’ list, and an “expert” user can change click duration to be short clicks instead of long clicks.

You can check it out here:

E2C partners with smartphone manufacturers (LG in Israel and HiSense in the United States) and installs a software layer that makes the phone more basic. For the first two years of the company, Alon and his co-founders Nimrod Kimchi and Eyal Hakner met with focus groups in old age homes to perfect the phone’s features. Afterwards they launched the product, which happened a year ago.

Image Credit: E2C

Image Credit: E2C

The phone disables scrolling and requires you to touch the screen for several seconds before it reacts, a feature which is patent-pending, Alon says. You can use apps like Waze and Candy Crush but the resolution is much larger than on a regular smartphone. Photos simply appear on your phone without your having to download them, and emails get sent just by pressing a contact person. All your messages come to a single message center without your having to keep track of several apps including email, WhatsApp, text messaging, etc.

How the phone’s emergency features helped save E2C’s co-founder’s grandmother’s life

The phone also allows a trusted family member to take over, and even break into the phone, as needed. Alon remembers an incident where he received an alert from his grandmother’s E2C phone that the battery was running low.

“She never forgets to charge her phone, so that set off alarm bells.”

Alon called his grandmother and called again but she didn’t answer. Under normal  circumstances, family members might call neighbors or wait a few hours. But Alon broke into his grandmother’s phone, which set off an alarm and turned the phone into a walkie talkie.

“Grandma, are you there? Are you there?” he shouted.

Alon heard a distant voice crying “help!” It turned out his grandmother had fallen in her kitchen the night before. He rushed to her house and managed to save her.

“She’s okay now.”

E2C also has a wearable bracelet with a distress button and sensors that detect when a person falls. If the wearer bumps their hand, they have 60 seconds to deactivate the SOS alert. In the free version of the SOS alert, an alert gets sent to family members. In the paid subscription version, it goes to a company that monitors seniors 24/7.

Image Credit: E2C

Image Credit: E2C

How do they make money?

In addition to the SOS service, E2C also operates VIP customer service, which consists of a hotline that seniors can call to learn how to use their smartphone or to chat about anything they need. E2C makes money from the paid SOS and VIP services as well as license fees from the smartphone manufacturers. Alon says the company has 10,000 customers in Israel and just launched in the U.S. three weeks ago.

In the United States, you can also get the phone for free and buy a plan through E2C. In Israel the phone costs between 900 and 1,900 shekels ($230-$490) while in the U.S. it runs for about $200.

While there are other smartphones for the elderly on the market, Alon says his solution is software based so he can work with any manufacturer. He also says his phone has been tested exhaustively on focus groups and has features that others don’t, like the long touch screen.

But in any case, says Alon, “Competition is good for me. I respect my competition. There is room for everyone and even more because the market is so huge. Most companies see the elderly as a niche. In the U.S., its 14 percent of the population.”

Solving the pain point of loneliness

Alon says the average age of his customers is 73, which seems a little young since most 73-year-olds this journalist and her colleagues know can navigate a smartphone with hardly any difficulty. Nevertheless, it is possible that seniors who did not have an office job or were not technophiles earlier in life may benefit from this device, and that E2C has lower income seniors more in mind as a target audience.

Alon says he also has a number of young customers with cerebral palsy. The long touch screen allows them to use the phone despite hand tremors.

The greatest benefit many seniors derive from the phone, explains Alon, is alleviation of loneliness.

“Loneliness is a big problem for seniors, especially in the United States.”

His own grandmother sees her family once a week, but during the week she mostly watches TV at home with her caretaker.

Before she had the EC2 phone, her family members would print out photos every few months and she would stick them on her refrigerator.

“But now she gets photos twice a day on her smartphone. It makes her happy. She calls it the magician.”

The other advantage of the phone, says Alon, is that it does not look like something especially for seniors. It is sleek and something you can show off to your friends.

He thinks there is a market opportunity because device developers, who tend to be young, don’t necessarily think of the older crowd when designing a product.

“It’s not sexy.”

But their loss is E2C’s gain. For those seniors who need it, especially those over the age of 80, this could be a brilliant invention.

“I did this because it’s a good business but I also wanted to do something good. What we’re doing is reconnecting the generations.”

At what age do you think this device could be useful? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass

I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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