Tech Companies Should Design With Senior Citizens In Mind
May 14, 2013

Seniors Want To Use Modern Technology, Too

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Technology is often thought to be a young person´s game, something older generations either aren´t privy to or simply wouldn´t understand. Yet, as technology continues to both evolve at lightning speeds and become ever present in most areas of life, the older set is being presented with opportunities to take advantage of these changes. Though hardware engineers and software designers may have their eyes set on younger generations, a quartet of researchers from the University of Central Arkansas are urging these and all other IT professionals not to overlook older generations, a set they call “Silver Surfers.” According to their work, seniors are quickly becoming a significant sector of the market that, like their much younger counterparts, have the disposable income to buy high tech gadgets such as Galaxy S4 phones, iPad tablets and even Google´s Glass when it becomes available.

Mark McMurtrey, Ronald McGaughey, James Downey and Steven Zeltmann of the Department of Management Information Systems at the University of Central Arkansas have worked together to show that these Silver Surfers are becoming ever more wired into the stream of connectivity. If the needs of these potential customers aren´t considered -- such as poor eyesight and hearing or poor dexterity -- hardware and software professionals risk alienating potential customers. Even more than a lost sale, these university researchers say gadget makers have a social duty to create products that can be easily used by people of all ages, not just those below the age of 30.

To fuel their study, the researchers pulled data from three sources. First, they used US Census data to find out what percentage of Americans are considered senior citizens. Next, they used data from three large-scale studies performed by SeniorNet, the largest promoter of senior computer and Internet use in the world. Finally, the University of Central Arkansas researchers looked to highly-cited studies and investigations from other research.

After looking at this data, the researchers found Silver Surfers are a lot like their younger peers. For instance, senior citizens use the Internet just like everyone else. They research subjects that interest them, they keep up with friends and loved ones via social networking and do a little shopping while online. The study even found that many seniors are actively involved in online social networks like Facebook and Twitter, two services that have previously been regarded as a young person´s territory. This research also found seniors aren´t afraid of mobile technology. In fact, they embrace it and use their smartphones and tablets like young people would.

Their willingness to use these mobile devices means Apple, Google, Samsung and others should take their needs under consideration when building these products.

For instance, Apple´s iOS has several accessibility features built directly into the platform. A three-fingered double tap can zoom the screen and make both apps and texts appear larger. Text can even be set to a larger size in calendar, contacts, mail and elsewhere. VoiceOver assistance can help guide users through the menus and apps on their phone, a feature which Instapaper developer Marco Arment has implored iOS developers to build into their apps.

“Ensuring that our seniors are mainstream participants in the digital world is a responsibility shared by all, so that our elderly remain productive and contributing members of our society,” explained the researchers in a statement.

“Such an approach will improve their overall quality of life, as well as the world at large,” they concluded.