Apple’s iPhone: a benefit for senior citizens

by James Williams

The Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City has something for just about everyone. There are clothing stores, sporting good stores, restaurants and even a movie theater. Nestled among them all is the only Apple Store in the city.

Here, customers come and go all day looking at the various computers, iPods and iPhones on display. Though looking is nice, experimenting with devices such as the iPhone is even better.

“They are very easy to use,” said Katie Towne, an iPhone specialist at the store. “There are applications on the iPhone for just about everyone,” she said. And that includes senior citizens.

“Utah is the fifth fastest growing state for the aging population,” said Scott Wright, director of gerontology at the University of Utah. Senior citizens want to know what they can do and where they can move to live longer, he said. For many seniors, Utah is one of those places. Technology, like the iPhone, can help them navigate their new community.

“We are living longer and it is going to revolutionize our society much like the industrial revolution in England,” Wright said. For senior citizens this type of technology can ease the challenges they face today. “Technology is one thing that can help aging adults the most,” Wright said. “It’s the intersect between the generations.”

With more than 85,000 downloadable applications, known as apps, available to iPhone users, senior citizens are sure to find something on the iPhone that can benefit them. One such app that Towne demonstrated is “Evernote,” which helps users with memory troubles. People can record voice notes, type notes and even create visual notes using the iPhone’s camera. All of the stored notes are easily accessible, which is another benefit to users. Evernote “creates sort of a to-do list for people with a bad memory,” Towne said.

One feature that comes standard on the iPhone and can assist senior citizens is the built-in map. It will show the current location of the iPhone on the screen, and when a user double taps the screen, it activates the built-in compass, which will help seniors find addresses and other places of interest.

Another map application designed specifically for senior citizens helps users locate local senior centers.

Yet another app helps senior citizens find decent and affordable housing.

“Sensory loss is a normal part of aging,” said Wright, which is something that Apple has taken into consideration.

The iPhone has almost no buttons, Towne said. “It is easy to use and you do not have to over-think it,” she said.

For senior citizens who have trouble reading small text on cell phone screens, the iPhone‘s zoom feature can help. Towne demonstrated this feature by double tapping the screen with three fingers. Users can also enable the high-contrast mode, which can make the screen more visible.

Towne pointed out the voice-over feature that users can enable if the text still is too small to read. When users enable this feature, the iPhone reads the contents of the screen.

The iPhone seems to appeal to senior citizens. “I’m surprised actually. Many people 60 and above use them,” Towne said.

However, there’s a major drawback to technology like the iPhone. It’s often expensive. According to PC World’s Web site, today’s version of the iPhone costs approximately $235.99 after taxes and fees, with an additional $159.82 in monthly user fees. Senior citizens on a tight monthly budget might find the price tough to afford.

While the iPhone is not a viable option for all seniors, learning about technology can be. The Apple Store at the Gateway Mall can assist senior citizens who want to experiment with cheaper forms of new technology. “It’s never too late to start,” Wright said.