Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colaco spoke with passion about making mobile phones better for older users and those with disabilities
The first Vodafone Smart accessibility awards were held in Brussels this week with a €200,000 prize split across four categories. The most important word in that sentence is “first”. Because there will be a second. It shows that Vodafone sees the value in making smartphones easy to use for older and disabled people.
The phones which are generally sold for the senior market from the likes of Doro, Emporia, Geemarc and other companies you probably haven’t heard of are all big button phones with some adaptation. The low volumes makes them very expensive when compared with mass market entry level phones.
As the market develops smartphones are coming down in price and it won’t be long before easy to use mobiles cost more than cheap Android phones. It’s quite likely that it will become as uneconomic to make a custom senior phone, with buttons as it is to make a CD Walkman. The utility is there for some people but not enough to justify tooling up.
The move to smartphones could very easily exclude a huge proportion of the population. Getting the right user interfaces and applications in place now will mean that they do become accessible. There is still a long way to go, and a huge amount of research which needs to be done. Some might point to the accessibility options on the iPhone but this is very badly done. Yes it can do high contrast screens but you still get some text which is tiny. And to access the functions you need to triple click on the one hard key. This is not an obvious thing to do, and even when learnt it’s a challenge for people with poor motor control: exactly the people it’s aimed at.
None of the applications which won on Monday are going to solve the problem, but Vodafone putting it on a very public agenda might well. The event was hosted by CEO Vittorio Colao, and one of the speakers was the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda - Neelie Kroes. Vodafone isn’t likely to drop a project which it has promoted so hard to someone so important.
The senior market is still small, but very often when Vodafone wakes up and takes notice others follow.