(BPT) - Smartphone technology may seem complicated and flashy, but don't believe anyone who says it's only for the young. In fact, 73 percent of those 50 to 59 years old now own a smartphone, according to a 2016 survey from AARP. Going one step further, a recent study of smartphone user habits by the Pew Research Center concludes that 92 percent of those aged 50 and above now use text messaging, 80 percent use their phones to access the internet and 87 percent use them to send and receive email.
Still, a significant smartphone generation gap exists within the baby boomer set. While smartphone owners 50 to 59 regularly perform common daily tasks and even occasionally play a game on their smartphones, AARP's study noted adults 60 to 69 are far more likely to rely on a laptop or desktop computer for email or internet use, and tend to avoid apps and games altogether.
Obstacles to smartphone enjoyment
It's no great mystery why certain baby boomers have been hesitant to fully embrace smartphone technology. Traditionally, mobile phones have simply not been designed with seniors in mind. Rather, they are designed for the larger share of the market represented by younger users, who grew up playing high-tech games, surfing the web and using touchscreens.
Software interfaces are often not particularly senior friendly. Small content size and busy screens can be difficult to read and comprehend. The challenge of navigating multiple menu levels is simply not intuitive for many older users.
The small physical size of many devices, and the even smaller size of things like number keys and icons, present challenges that can make smartphones frustrating for seniors to use, and sometimes even seem a little intimidating.
Growing choices to satisfy senior needs
Fortunately, the wireless industry has responded, and the gap is quickly being filled. Savvy manufacturers and specialized carriers have recognized the potential of the senior market, resulting in more and better choices than ever.
Samsung's Android smartphones, for instance, include a simplified version of its operating software designed to make navigation more convenient. Called 'Easy Mode,' this optional setting is found in nearly every modern Samsung device. Easy Mode enlarges the size of text and icons, and allows users to put everything within easy reach on a single screen.
Most Android and iPhone models also offer options within the Settings menu that allow users to adjust things like font size and screen brightness to tailor the user experience to their specific needs. With any Android smartphone, users also have the option of downloading a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store, which provides big pictures and text to simplify navigation.
There's even a growing segment of the carrier market focusing on seniors. Known for its affordable rates and excellent customer service, Consumer Cellular is a full-service, no-contract carrier that offers a range of specifically senior-friendly smartphones for any skill level. Other carriers have gained popularity among older users by offering simplified smartphones with convenient emergency calling features.
Opening up new worlds
Beyond a slight learning curve, there's no longer any reason for seniors to feel left out, or even limited, by smartphone technology. By integrating new, senior-oriented designs and features, today's smartphone experience can be as simple and user-friendly as they need it to be.
The Pew study reveals just how integral smartphones have become to the lives of users over 50. Going beyond standard uses, 39 percent in this age bracket also use their phones to access information about health conditions; 34 percent use them to do online banking. Fifty-five percent use smartphones for social networking, and another 55 percent use their phone's features for entertainment.
There are truly almost no limits on what can be done with a smartphone. No longer a mere toy or gadget, it has evolved to become an indispensable modern tool. The good news for older users is that it is also now more accessible than ever.