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Maybe a child can use it…but what about the rest of us?

Tech and Innovation

Posted on June 1, 2011

6 min read

I spend a lot of time looking at products and how consumers might actually use them (as opposed to how manufacturers believe they’ll use them).

When I was at CES in Las Vegas earlier this year, I was both surprised and disappointed that there were not a lot of products suitable for the elderly and not so able bodied, run of the mill, consumer.

Given that along with all of you, I am not getting any younger, I often worry about what wonderful technology  I will be able to use in the years to come.  Let me quickly list some of the devices I use on a daily basis:

Mobile phone; car with a bluetooth car kit; digital 2-way radio; GPS; quartz watch; eBook reader; computer; microwave oven; flat screen TV etc etc.

Do manufacturers seriously take into account the demographics of users of the products they sell? I want to share a few war stories on product design – good and bad.

Child’s Play

Child's playMy 2 year old granddaughter picks up an iPhone, pushes the top of the handset to turn it on, slides her finger across the screen to unlock it, then selects the photos icon and scrolls through the selection until she finds the picture or video she wants. The old saying – “even a child can use it” is so right. “Can an adult use it?” should be the other test applied before release. The answer here is a resounding yes.

(For those of us who remember VCRs – that’s video cassette recorders for the younger readers – how many times did you answer questions from your parents on how to record a programme on it whilst watching another TV show?)

Even Handedness

Many years ago, I sat in the office of the VP for SE Asia for Alcatel, and was proudly shown their latest “gaming” handset – a beautifully engineered and designed phone that, when held horizontally, became a gaming console. When asked what I thought of it, I immediately put it down and said it would be fine for a right handed person. Being left handed, (along with approximately 8 – 15% of the world’s population)  it was unusable for me. Crestfallen, but not defeated – I received a call a few weeks later advising me the handset was now ambidextrous!

Keypad

When  Seimens launched their MP3 phone –the SL45 – in 2001, the portable music revolution was in its infancy. Few phones had the capability of the SL45. I was a great fan of its many features – except one. The physical spacing of the lowest line of keys on the keypad were too close to the bottom of the phone. That made texting somewhat challenging –as your thumb tended to fall off the phone far too often. I jokingly suggested to Siemens on more than one occasion that they should have reversed the design – and had the screen at the bottom and the keypad above it. Outlandish? Yes. Serious? Definitely. A similar design issue was fairly common in the early 2000s in slider phones. I am convinced many manufacturers did not try their own products prior to production. I recall rejecting several handsets that did not allow the user clear access to the function keys at the top of the keypad – as the sliding screen obstructed part of the keypad. A simple, avoidable, design flaw that impacted millions of dollars of potential sales.

Usability

According to the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) conducted in 2009, 18.5%, or 4  million people in Australia, reported having a disability. For this report, “disability is defined as any limitation, restriction or impairment which restricts everyday activities and has lasted or is likely to last for at least six months.”  The rate of disability increases with age.

Think about that for a moment. Just under one in six people in Australia have some sort of disability.

Society has adjusted to some extent in assisting people with needs that do not fit into the societal norms. (I hate the word “normal” with a passion, and I am not too keen on the label of “disability” either). We would all be better off if we dropped the “dis” and concentrated on everyone’s abilities!

A sign of the times perhaps, but a standard function of the Telstra Next G® network is that 3Gphones are hearing aid compatible. It was not so long ago that only a handful of devices were compatible with hearing aids. The Next® G network received an excellent hearing aid rating. Regular end-user tests are carried out prior to a device being released to the public (not just in the laboratory).

The number and style of eBook readers have proliferated over the past couple of years. As a fairly recent convert to joy of eBooks, I set out to purchase a device for a family member who has limited mobility and cannot hold a heavy book. What I discovered was quite disturbing. There was basically nothing available for people who suffered chronic arthritis of their hands/arms  or who had limited dexterity. My requirements were fairly simple. I wanted a lightweight device with limited keys and a screen that was easily swiped by a finger or knuckle. No pressing of arrows. No typing on a keyboard. Just a swipe of across the screen. My options were limited. I could go “up market” and purchase an iPad or Galaxy Tab, however they both offered functionality way beyond what was needed. Then there were the many different eReaders – all offering a choice of keyboards, arrows or dials to turn that were unworkable. Thankfully the folk at Sony had the right solution. The Sony PRS650, along with other members of the PRS family of readers, is certainly worth considering.

Previously reviewed

In case you missed these, take a look at my earlier postings on mobile and fixed line phones primarily designed to be usable for the seniors market:

I’d like your feedback on products you have found that assisted either you or a family member to make life easier.

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