The smartphone fear factor

Smartphones now make up 67% of all UK mobile phone sales. But take a look at who isn’t buying smartphones and it becomes clear that this figure hides a long standing trend that one demographic, the over 65s, is still being ignored.

According to the latest results from OFCOM, 91% of UK adults of all ages currently own or use a mobile. However, 95% of the over 65 age group do not use a smartphone, and even in the 55-64 age group, the use of smartphones remains low at 17%. There are two clear reasons for this trend.

63% of 55-64 year olds prefer to be on a prepay contract, a number which rises to 82% in the over 65s. But it is not simply about being priced out of the market, after all the over 65s have more disposable income than any other demographic.

Rather, the design and the functions of the latest smartphones do not take into account the particular needs of older users. Smartphones are complicated to access and difficult to operate. Research conducted on behalf of emporia Telecom by Cambridge University has shown that more than half of the over 50s in the UK felt nervous using an electronic product they had not seen before. According to OFCOM, 39% of over 65s do not use any of the functionality of a mobile beyond making voice calls. Forget about uploading pictures, playing music, gaming, or social networking. Only 19% will ever use the camera, and 45% will not even use the facility to send a text. The smartphone does not appeal.

There are currently more than 9.8million people in the UK aged over 65, and emporia Telecoms’ research has demonstrated the desire within this age group to use mobile phones as a way to retain autonomy, self-determination, social esteem, access to their network of friends or acquaintances and to be seen to be able to play a valued role in society. Unfortunately, the drive to create more functionality and complexity within smaller devices is in complete opposition to what this growing market tells us it wants from new technology.

Ian Hosking, Senior Research Associate, Cambridge University said, “It is critical that all manufacturers of electronics goods, particularly mobile phones, consider the needs of older users when designing new products. There is a real opportunity to address this anxiety and create something that is both stylish and easy to use.”

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