Old People Use Mobile Phones Too
By Mike Masnick, Tue Jun 22 21:00:00 GMT 2004

Everyone seems completely focused on the teen segment of the wireless market, leaving open a huge opportunity to target the elderly. However, it will take more than just repackaging existing offers and advertising them to grandparents.

Whenever people talk about hot segments in the mobile phone market, they tend to focus on teenagers. They're the early adopters, the arbiters of what's "cool" and (most importantly) big spenders when it comes to phones and mobile service. The problem, of course, is that everyone wants to focus on that segment, making it much more competitive while increasing acquisition costs.

Over at the other end of the spectrum, however, the carriers and handset makers seem to be completely ignoring the senior citizen market. Part of this is a self-fulfilling marketing cycle. Senior citizens have fewer phones, so lazy marketers assume that this means there's no market, rather than realizing it's a wide open market... that will take a little work to crack. Senior citizens can be more lucrative over the long term as well. They tend to be much more loyal and won't always be jumping ship to find the best new deal.

One major issue, however, may be that most people working in the industry are younger than this target market -- and, in some cases, they don't want to think about growing older, making them turn a blind eye to the opportunity. While most workers designing products don't really know what senior citizens are going through in order to design products for them, that's why market research and focus groups exist. In the end, though, even if they could figure out what users wanted, the design changes may need a shift in thinking, as older users won't understand or care about all the bells and whistles of mobile phones. On top of that, people in the industry aren't as interested in going through the extra effort for something that doesn't seem "sexy."

However, as the baby boomers start retiring the market is going to be so large (and increasingly tech savvy) that they will be impossible to ignore. Already, some are experimenting with new ideas for mobile phones for the elderly that involve larger buttons and seem much more like regular phones. However, some thought needs to go into the service as well. Things that regular mobile phone users are used to (such as how to set up and check their voicemail or even how to answer a mobile phone) are not at all obvious to someone who has never used a mobile phone and isn't all that interested in learning how to use new devices. Even worse, standards battles and inter-carrier squabbling are going to turn off elderly users who (along with the rest of us) won't understand why they won't be able to see the camera phone photo their grandson tried to send them because he was on one network and they're on another. The market for the older mobile phone users is wide open and potentially quite lucrative, but it's going to require a different mindset, and it's not clear if the industry is up for that challenge.