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Date [ 2013-03-26, 10:10 ]

Zooming in one sector of mobile phone users that is pushed behind or largely ignored.


(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress)  by Ramani Rathir = Nowadays, say ‘mobile phone’ or rather ‘smart phone’ and the young come to mind immediately. The media hits you with visuals of teenagers partying, texting, listening to music, taking photographs and yes, chatting on the phone to friends.

Hardly anyone associates mobile phones with senior citizens. That is until now! Chui Yin Wong in the Interface Design Department of the Multimedia University, Malaysia did an exploratory study of how these elderly perceive their mobile phones. Their ages ranged from 55 to 82 years.

By year 2050, Asia will be home to almost two-thirds of the world’s population of people over 65. Malaysia’s Department of Statistics projects that 9.9% (or approximately 3.5 million) of the entire population will be at this level by 2020. 

Today, young adults aged from 18 to 30s make up the largest group of mobile subscribers. They are the largest revenue source for mobile operators in this country. However, now with ageing population on the rise, the capability of the so-called ‘silver surfer’ group should not be underestimated.

Chui notes the local market for mobile phones and their services for senior citizens remain widely unexplored. Therefore, she feels the market share of this growing elderly population in using and purchasing mobile telecommunication and ICT services in their daily lives, should not be ignored.

. Although considerable research had been done in the advanced countries to study the usage of mobile phones by senior citizens, this is not the case in developing nations, such as Malaysia. What then is the relationship of mobile phones with our local senior citizens?

As mentioned earlier, Chui decided to explore this aspect. The study queried local senior citizens about their views and experience of using their mobile phones and its related services. They were generally asked such questions as ‘Do you own, use a mobile phone? Why? Which model? Your first? Which features you use the most?

Interesting and varied answers emerged from the interviews and which focused on four main areas. These were the mobile:

as a social device,

as an emotional tool,

as a reminder aid

as a personal guide. 


In general, most respondents perceived the mobile phone as being important for communication purposes. However the elderly would usually need a specific reason to adopting a new innovation. The reason that emerged most tellingly was the need to keep in touch with people of their age group, in other words their peers or friends.


One female respondent aged 60 stated:

“My children bought me one as my birthday’s gift two years ago, but I refused to use it until my friend started to ask me for my phone number. Then, I started receiving calls from my friend, and then more friends. Now, I can even spend half an hour chatting with my friend over the mobile phone. I love chatting…”

When asked about the frequency and satisfaction of using the mobile phone, certain issues rose. 

A female respondent, 60, informed:

“I am using this as my third phone since the past three and half years. I liked the first one, there…[trying to recall] the Nokia model [3310], I can feel the buttons , and [the menu is] very straight-forward. I don’t need to put on my glasses you know... I know how to make calls, then the battery didn’t work anymore. (Do) not like this one so difficult. Aiya…I don’t feel like using this one. My friend gave me another one from Korea ,..….but, I hate this mobile phone, the battery didn’t last that long like the Nokia. Only one day [usage], then it is K.O. liao…[battery ran out]. I have to recharge it everyday….I can’t hear it ringing when I put it inside my bag….”

The user interface problems that older people faced in using their mobile phones such as buttons being too small and rubbery, menus with too many and often unnecessary options or too small a display size, dismayed the senior citizens. Battery life too had to be substantial. They therefore preferred an easy to use interface with straight forward menu navigation, clearly designed icons and louder ringing tones.


Some elderly consider them as “emotional engagement” devices that are able to foster a closer relationship with family members.  

One female respondent, a 72 year-old housewife, considered photo-taking with her mobile to be exciting and enjoyed sharing that joyful emotion with her granddaughter:

“I never bought a mobile phone. It was my daughters who wanted to

contact me, and were afraid I might lose my way when I go to the market. But, they never taught me how to use it. Instead my granddaughter, Cheryl, is the one who taught me how to use the camera feature. She showed me how to take the picture. So, you can see the picture of me and Cheryl on the mobile phone [wallpaper]. Cheryl helped me to put the pic on the front [of the mobile]. Whenever I open the mobile phone, I like to see this pic. You know…I see Cheryl growing from a baby to become a teenage girl now. I miss her so much when she is not beside me these days. When she is not with me, I can see her smiling from my mobile….see how close we are on the phone.”

Here it has been highlighted that an elderly female would not think of owning her own mobile phone until an emotion bond had been established  between the artifact (mobile phone) with her

close family member, in this case her granddaughter. It shows that the human relationship factor and its emotional aspect are crucial to encourage the elderly to learn and further adopt additional features of mobile phones. Unfortunately, current mobile operators are still mainly focusing on the youth market.

Not so in Japan, South Korea, U.S.A. and Europe where the mobile operators have been taking care of the concerns of their growing ageing populations. It is therefore crucial for our local mobile operators to look into the potentials of this ‘grey’ market.



As age increases, it is common for the elderly to experience health deterioration in various aspects, especially with memory. The study discovered that the elderly would prefer to have their mobile phones check the status of their health and/or monitor their health condition.

. For instance, a 56 year old male respondent informed:

“You know I am so forgetful nowadays. The best is to hear someone’s voice from the phone say, ‘Hey, it is time to take your pills.’ I can also set it with different ring tones like beep beep reminding for taking my pills….when it is time for my medical check-up, it can tell me ‘it is time to see your personal doctor’…”


A other 56 years old senior expressed:

“You know what…nowadays I use my hand phone as my alarm clock.

Every time when it beeps, it tells me, ‘hey it is time to wake up.’… I

don’t need to write notes everywhere and simply place the paper to

remind me what I need to do every day. When the time comes, I am

automatically reminded to do a task I suppose to do….”


A 61 year old male respondent revealed:

“I always forget where I place my mobile [phone]. Like that day Rami

called me, and I brought the phone to the bathroom, and after talking, I

went out. The time I wanted to find my mobile phone, I couldn’t recall

where I placed it. So I had to use the house phone to call, and see

whether I can find it. But, … there was one time, I left my mobile phone

at the restaurant, paid the bill, and left….and totally forgot about it.

Luckily the waiter came after me and gave me back the phone. What

happened if I forgot to locate my mobile… I wish my phone could give

me a ring-ring tone when it is away from me within 5 meters.”


A 74 year old illiterate female respondent complained:

“I hate my mobile [phone] because it can’t be the same like the house

phone. I just do like the house phone, put down my mobile [phone] after

finish talking. I don’t understand why my phone no more battery so

quickly. Every time, I just shout loudly to the phone, ‘hello…’ and no

answers… Then, my granddaughter told me the phone credit was

finished. I also don’t know when it was finished so fast….”


So the interesting fact is, the seniors would like their mobile phone to remind them of their health, of everyday tasks or a locating feature that will tell them where to find it if misplaced. They blame themselves for their absent-mindedness. In the last case, some users expect the mobile phone to act as a line phone, expecting that by putting down their mobile phone, the action will end their calls, without pressing the end call button on their mobile phone. Manufacturer could take into consideration of providing a reminder or an automatic call shut-down feature after a certain period of silence. This should prevent any credit loss, and eventually save battery consumption. Further design consideration of this feature will not only cater for the needs of elderly, but it also benefit all types of mobile users.



Some old folks, especially when outside their homes, felt having some sort of a personal guide built into their mobile phone would be a big help.


A 64 year old male respondent revealed:

“… There are more and more shops around these days. I am not good at maps… I sometimes feel lost and forget where the exact shop I went. Then, I wanted to call my son, but they are working, and not good for me to disturb them….that day I was at the shopping mall. It was so huge at the Mega Mall, and I nearly got lost in the maze. Ask people where I can get out from the mall, but I was walking round and round until so tired…I was panic that I afraid I couldn’t get out from the place. I tried to call for help, but my phone didn’t tell me where I am in the mall.”


Having a built-in personal guide feature, using a visual map for senior mobile phones, could be an included feature. However, this is still perceived as being too sophisticated for our senior citizens. They still prefer to seek help from someone, such as a security guard or policeman when having to find their way back.

Having said this, for the more savvy-tech seniors, a 2-D map

illustration in a simple version with voice command in their senior phones, indicating their current position and guide to their next destination, would prove useful for them.

In conclusion, the perception and attitude towards mobile phones and its services among the senior citizens are generally quite encouraging. It is now up to our local mobile operators to explore and tap this yet undiscovered lucrative market.

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