Seniors Love Tablets but Remain Skeptical About Smartphones

by Kevin on May 22, 2017

Many of the elderly of today were in their prime during the dawn of the Internet Age. As a result, seniors are a bit more receptive to the idea of accessing the web and utilizing personal technology than those their age of a decade or so ago. Luddites are becoming few and far between.

However, when it comes to the peak of modern mobile tech – tablets and smartphones – there exists an interesting dynamic among older demographics:

As many readers may already know from personal experience and anecdotal evidence, iPads and other tablets are hot items among seniors. It’s not unusual to see a woman in her late-70s checking the news on a tablet while riding the bus. Millions of grandpas, grandmas, and great-grandparents count on their tablets to stay in touch with loved ones via Facebook and Skype.

On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a 70-something-year-old man, or any senior for that matter, nose-down looking at an iPhone? Can you picture visiting your grandmother and finding her with earbuds on, thumbs downing Pandora tracks in between scrolling through her social media feed? While outlier instances no doubt exist and plenty of seniors own smartphones, it’s certainly not a common observation. If “spot the senior glued to his smartphone” were part of a drinking game it’d make for a sober evening.

There is no shortage of data suggesting more seniors own smartphones now than ever before. However, they are rarely utilized beyond basic phone calls and text messaging, functions which can be found on flip phone technology. It’s no surprise Jitterbug and other flip phone solutions remain hot sellers among senior citizens. They provide everything many elderly consumers want from a cell phone without making it too complicated.

Okay, but hold up – aren’t tablets and smartphones basically the same thing? Sure, tablets are a little more square and a little less rectangle, but apart from that and the obvious size differences, the concept is essentially the same. The only real difference internally is the inclusion of a dedicated service carrier system for smartphones and the superior computing power of tablets.

With this in mind, one has to wonder why tablet usage among seniors has been exceptionally growing in a consistent pattern the last several years while smartphones seem to stay in their pockets or skipped over entirely in favor of flip phones. These generations watched computers go from the size of living rooms to fitting on top of our laps, it can’t be that much of a leap for them to go from tablets to smartphones.

It turns out several factors go into why most seniors can get behind iPads but will be completely content with keeping their flip phone. One reason is something most of us can understand about getting older: deteriorating vision. It’s not easy discerning the details on a 4.5-inch smartphone screen packed with information with 70-year-old eyes. It is, however, not as difficult to spend hours looking at a screen twice that size.

Then there’s handling. Thanks to arthritis and other causes of hand swelling and reduce dexterity that become more common as we age, it’s not exactly a cinch for seniors to scroll on a smartphone single-fingered without hitting the wrong links, buttons, etc. Double the size of these same tabs and icons and it gets much easier.

Lastly, tablets are a lot like newspapers and magazines, which up until even as recently as five years ago were the primary sources of information for Baby Boomers and those older. They’re familiar in terms of how information is consumed, which is pretty important for people of any age. Smartphones, however, don’t compute so to speak with the comfort level expected from most seniors. Flip phones, to the typical senior, represent what cell phones were like when their generations were the first to use them. They’re flat out more familiar.

Interestingly enough, it’s worth finishing by making mention of the resurgence of flip phone popularity among youth. The seemingly unrelatable generations alive today might have more in common than they think, even with technology.

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