Windows Phones too complex for the elderly? Not really...

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There's an interesting article here responding to criticisms that Windows Phones can be 'too complex' for the elderly. The gist of the response to a real world case was that not enough care had been put into configuring the Windows Phone for the 75 year old in question. The discussion's an interesting one though, with some quotes and thoughts below.

I do have some experience in elderly parents struggling with modern interfaces, having tried several times to get my own mum and dad going with an iPad and with various touchscreen smartphones. They just couldn't cope with the responsiveness of capacitive screens, the slightest tremble or imprecision in their fingers and an unwanted action or launch was the result, ending in total confusion.

In the WMPU article linked:

An interesting article on a personal blog caught my attention today.  In it the author suggests the Nokia Lumia 530 was a “disastrous Christmas present” for his 75 year old elderly mother, who was used to a 10 year old feature phone.

He notes:

  • My mum, although intelligent and educated and comfortable using word on a laptop and webmail in a browser (on a public library computer) could not grasp the graphical paradigm of windows tiles.  She wants, expects, and needs hard keys for on/off, home, etc.  Even after reading the limited instructions and getting advice from my sister and two nieces, she just could not grasp the tile and sliding concepts.  The harder she tried the more confused she became, the more frustrated she was, and ultimately rejected the whole thing.
  • Touch screens require fine motor control. This may be adjustable in the windows UI, but she struggled with touching accurately and quickly enough (but not too long).  She did not seem to have the same issue with an iPad – but even that UI was confusing and strange to her.  She likes hierarchical menus and the graphical stuff is way too busy and odd.  If you look at the image of the Nokia above – the ONLY tile she wants or needs is the phone.  The rest is distracting garbage to her.  My niece couldn’t conceive that she wouldn’t want Facebook and twitter on the home screen, because those are like oxygen to her.  To my mum, they are nothing of interest.
  • My mother’s eyesight is good, but the icons and colour palettes were strange and confusing to her.  She still is annoyed that a magnifying glass “means” search. To her it means “zoom in” or “make larger”.  I suspect you may be able to customize icons and colour palettes, but that would require a lot more time and effort on my part – for a phone that gets used for 10-15 minutes a month.
  • Many people of her generation (especially in the UK) have  great fear of breaking or damaging a compeer by “doing the wrong thing”. I’m not sure if this is due to scare stories in the news or just received wisdom, but I have seen this a lot. Devices don’t come with manuals any more – you are just expected to click around and work it out.  But if you think that there’s a “wrong” thing you can do that will destroy the item, you will never explore and discover.  At the other extreme is the young kid who will click on everything and work it out for themselves in minutes – with no fear (or concerns) at all.

I suspect however a large part of the issue was poor configuration by his Nokia Lumia 520-using niece, as he himself alluded to when saying:

My niece couldn’t conceive that she wouldn’t want Facebook and twitter on the home screen, because those are like oxygen to her.  To my mum, they are nothing of interest.

He holds up the Doro Android smartphone, designed for the elderly, as likely more suitable.


I think it would not be too difficult to set up the Nokia Lumia 530 very similarly, by setting the on screen navigation buttons to never hide, clearing the start screen of all apps and pinning the phone app and a few contacts to the screen.

Ultimately the author’s solution was to return the 530 and buy another feature phone.  With smartphones however outselling feature phones already and the selection of feature phones dwindling, this will soon no longer be an option, and it would behove those giving a smartphone to an elderly person to set it up such that they can use it.

Indeed. Oh, and sorry for quoting an article that quotes someone else, who in turn references someone else.....(!)

The author goes on to describe the steps he'd go through to set up a Windows Phone for this exact use case. The use of High Contrast mode and Apps Corner are perhaps overkill, but I'd absolutely endorse the use of a highly stripped down Start screen, with the largest tile sizes possible, and perhaps with just:

  • Pinned shortcuts to main contacts (son, daughter, doctor, roadside rescue), making sure that each had proper artwork/photo
  • Messaging
  • Phone (i.e. the dialler, with keypad, etc.)
  • Cortana

This last is interesting and relevant, partly because it brings along the weather forecast, but also because in an emergency - or routinely, if the elderly person is partially sighted - the voice control and input might - literally - be a life saver.

Anything else would be a distraction for my own mum and dad. What about your elderly relatives? What else would you add or take away to/from a Windows Phone Start screen for a 80 year old?

Source / Credit: WMPU