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Big Buttons, Simple Functions, Hits its Market Spot On.
on 23 November 2011
One of the odd things about miniaturization is how counter it can run to usability. My sense is that most product designers and engineers are young with the excellent eyesight that usually comes with youth.
As I have attained middle age and my eyesight has got less acute, I have found it more and more of a pain that most gadgets have got smaller, and thus their displays and buttons harder to read without popping glasses on. I can only imagine how off-putting this must be for people rather older than me, and how excluded it must make them tend to feel.
Of course the heaping of more and more functions and applications into consumer devices such as phones also runs somewhat counter to the needs of older users, most of whom have little or no interest or use for anything other than basic phone and SMS functions.
Fortunately though, some manufacturers have recognised this problem: There are quite a few "big button" phones available now. This is one such from Panasonic, the KX-TU301. Catchy name, Panasonic! How about something more descriptive like the "Easy-See"?
The phone is well made, the buttons are large (each is about twice the size of the buttons on Nokia 3200 or 6200 series phones seemingly used by many older people). However, the buttons don't have that toy "fisher-Price" look that some big button phones have. The display is also high-contrast and the coloured icons easy to differentiate without reading the text.
Very easy to get this phone going, I just took the SIM card out of an existing Vodafone and put it into this one, battery charge (on the supplied charger and drop-in cradle) and after entering time and date, off we go!
I have no way to try it, but apparently the phone can be used with hearing aid loops: But, the built in earpiece volume actually can go pretty darn loud. Number displays for contacts and incoming calls are nice and big - I can easily read them sans glasses.
The only thing I am not really sure about for the target market is the use of the four-way joystick-like button navigation.
Why do so many older people struggle with modern consumer devices? Well, I've tried to show quite a few older people how to use modern phones and found that, apart from the eyesight issue, their main confusion stems from the fact that one button can do different things, according to context. In the pre-mobile phone world, no device had anything other than single-function buttons. In my experience, older people get very confused by that no longer being true. Having said that, I don't know how you would fit all the required single function buttons onto a mobile phone, so there's no way around it. Anyone under 60 has no problem with the notion, so I guess it's a problem only for a minority.
Navigation is, once the multi-functional button issue is overcome, very very easy with clear on-screen direction.
As with most of these kinds of phones, you can set-up a "panic" button which allows just one key press to make a call for help to whatever number you want to set up (999, son or daughter's mobile etc).
I imagine that with an ageing, but increasingly technically literate, population there will have to be a greater recognition of eyesight issues from smart phone & gadget manufacturers in the years ahead.
Overall, as a Christmas or Birthday gift for an elderly friend or relative, or one with poor eyesight, this would be an excellent choice.