Mobile survey results! Is the 55+ market satisfied?

by Kerstin Exner on 20 September 2011

The results are in! Kicked off in my last post ‘What about the 55+ mobile phone market?‘ my survey on mobile phones with a particular focus on people over 55 years old is complete! Some of which are refreshingly quite contrary to stereotypical views of the ‘older generation’. Please keep in mind that this survey was distributed over the internet, so mainly reached people who are fairly technologically savvy but there was a reasonably good spread of respondents over different age groups, which allows for a comparison between ages.

  • What types of phone do people use?

One key question asked what type of phones people use, which was quite telling for this age group (see results on the right). Handsets were split into 4 groups: candybar style  (traditional feature phones), flip phone style (e.g. Motorola Razr), touchscreen smartphone style (e.g. iphone), or blackberry.

It’s perhaps not surprising that a higher percentage of people in the younger end of the scale use a smartphone or blackberry, but a considerable number of the older age ranges use smartphones as well. Interestingly a relatively high percentage of the group between 65-69 still own flip phones. Flip phones were all the rage in 2004 to 2006 but went out of fashion for the majority with the rise of the iPhone and Android phones. It can be safely assumed that those users with the flip phones have had their phone for a number of years.

  • Which features do people use on their phones?

Another key insight shows the features that people use on their phones. Unsurprisingly, smartphone users use the most features and almost all smartphone users use their phone to access the internet and email. However, the majority of people in the survey don’t have smartphones and there is a direct correlation here as they also don’t use as many features. This user segment, besides making calls and writing and receiving text messages, almost exclusively uses their phone as an address book, to take the occasional photo and uses their mobile to set alarms. Other functions like calendar/diary functions or listening to music are hardly used by any of these users.

  • What problems do people have using their phones?

A number of questions dealt with problems encountered when using a mobile phone. The research shows that those users with health issues affecting movement of hands or fingers (e.g. arthritis) have no clear preference for any particular type of phone despite the fact that the interaction with the buttons on a feature phone is very different from a touchscreen. These users also use their phone just as frequently as any other users.

Respondents were also asked to describe what they found most difficult when using their phone. The type of issue most frequently described was around complexity of using features, confusing menus, complicated flows, and too many unnecessary features. Interestingly this applies to all phone types equally. Another issue cited quite frequently was a problem operating small controls. Interestingly all of the users complaining of this were smartphone or blackberry users. No users complained about small buttons on their feature phone. Equally frequent as small control complaints were issues relating to small font sizes, small screen sizes and poor visibility in sunlight. These issues again happened across all phone types.

These results really challenge the common perception that touchscreen smartphones have made operating a mobile phone easier by providing a more direct interaction style, the removal of complicated menu structures and providing a bigger screen with more customisation options. It seems that touchscreen phones have not really addressed these issues at least for the age groups in question here.

  • Make no assumptions about ‘older’ users

Finally there were a number of comments made in the questionnaire similar to the responses to the previous blog post saying that it shouldn’t be assumed that just being over a certain age means that people don’t adopt new technology. Admittedly, starting at 55 is very young for any research of ‘older’ people and across all respondents no matter what age, it is clear from the data that people are very diverse and so I must conclude that segmenting people by age alone is not useful. People’s behaviour with regards to mobile phones depends on many factors, for example their experience with similar technology. Perhaps it’s time to dispel some rather patronising misconceptions about older people simply wanting mobile phones with a few big buttons to make the occasional call, or at least admit that the ‘older user’ group is not the right way to sort users and requirements.

In  order to get a better understanding of the specific customer experience with regards to smartphone interactions, I am now conducting a series of individual interview and usability testing sessions with people over 55 years of age. I am still looking for a few more participants for my sessions. If you are over 55, live in the London area, ideally own a smartphone, and would like to participate in my study, please call 020 7423 6320 and ask for Kerstin!

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