Destination Mumbai: Transforming Aging with Smartphones
by Ushma Mody, with Jeff Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
India’s economic boom has brought technology to the masses. And no technology has been as transformative in India than the smartphone. More affordable than the laptop or ipad, the smartphone has almost become a necessity in India.
Until about ten years ago, it would have been unheard of for lower-income Indians to own, or even have access to smart phones. But by 2016, millions of Indian people had smartphones. In fact, a 2016 survey of 70 nations worldwide found that India had the world’s second-largest number of smartphone users, exceeded only by China. (Wikipedia, “List of Countries [N=70] by Number of Mobile Phones in Use”).
By 2017, the number of mobile phone users in India is projected to be 730.7 million, again the world’s second highest number after China. An estimated 10% of them, or 73 million, will be Indians aged 50+. And nearly 10% of them will have smartphones (Forbes, “India Becomes the World’s Second-Largest Smartphone Market,” 3 February, 2016.)
India’s mature markets have embraced mobile phone usage with gusto. Although people aged 60+ now comprise only 7.5% of India’s vast population, the percentage who are mobile phone users is higher than in younger cohorts of the population.
According to The Times of India, the percentage of mobile phone users aged 55+ had “…practically doubled between 2012 and 2013…rising from 5% in 2012, to 9% in 2013.” (Forbes, 3 February, 2016). As India is reshaped by the Age Wave, smartphone usage will continue to rise. Without a doubt, mature markets will continue impacting on the development and marketing of smartphones.
The Business of Aging: India’s Age Wave Shapes Smartphone Markets
During the past 6 years, the price of smartphones in India dropped steadily, which has both increased demand for smartphones, and encouraged the introduction of India’s first “Senior-Friendly” smartphone.
In October of 2014, telecommunications giant Mitashi began marketing the Mitashi Senior Smartphone AP103 (NDTV Correspondent, “Mitashi Play Senior Friend Android Smartphone Launched at Rs. 4,999” Gadgets 360, Oct 21 2014). The AP103 was developed in response to India’s Age Wave, and was marketed aggressively to India’s Seniors. Among its selling points were:
The “SOS” Feature: In addition to standard smartphone features, such as internet, text-messaging, phone service and camera, the AP103 had an “SOS” feature, which allowed for rapid dialing to get help during an emergency; and
A “Senior-Friendly” Face: The AP103 offered larger font (by default), brighter colors, and larger buttons. This was supposed to make the AP103 is easier for visually impaired people to read. Its larger buttons were said to be easier on arthritic fingers.
The AP103 was not well received by Seniors, however. Sales were sluggish. Complaints and criticisms went viral. As early as 2014, the same year as the rollout, e-commerce websites were flooded with complaints and snarky reviews of the AP103.
For example, shortly after the roll-out in 2014, older people began complaining that the AP103’s microphone-system was faulty. Even worse, there were complaints about AP103’s battery life. According to comments and reviews on Amazon, battery-life was so low that the smartphone needed to be recharged more than once a day.
Worst of all, dissatisfied customers across India insisted that there was nothing especially “Senior Friendly” about the AP103. The time was right for competitors to step-in. A year later, in 2015, another telecommunications company did precisely that.
Smartphone Wars: Competition For A Market-Share
In 2015, SeniorWorld launched a competitive smartphone called EasyFone, which was also intended for mature markets. EasyFone had similar but more sophisticated features: An SOS emergency call button which texted for help along with telephoning; a battery which held its charge much longer; and a standing dock which doubled as a charger. The goal of this last feature was to automatically charge the phone every time it rested on this stand, thus eliminating the need for Seniors to (re)charge the smartphone
Other features include the option of adding photographs next to the names and phone numbers of important contacts; also, larger buttons and fonts. In addition, the EasyFone comes in brighter colors. Snappy colors, larger font, and the option of “photo calling,” or selecting phone numbers from the phone’s directory on the basis of a photo rather than a name) proved to be appealing to Seniors. Like Mitashi’s smartphone, this one is also inexpensive, priced at around $80.
There is also a SeniorWorld website (Indian-based). Along with promoting the EasyFone, the SeniorWorld website offers a blog, healthcare self-testing options for older people, and even a “Hobbies” page which offers information on some of the most popular pass times of older people: Gardening, exercise, cooking and more.
EasyFone, along with the SeniorWorld website, have been well received by India’s Mature Markets. People who had bought this phone for their parents report that they seem to be happy with the phone, and involved with the website.
Like so many Third-World nations, India is now experiencing a demographic transition. Not only is India’s business world becoming more sensitive and responsive to the needs of the mature marketplace, the sheer size of that marketplace makes it more important than ever. The EasyFone is already being joined by new and more Senior-Friendly competitors. Senior-friendly products such as this are ringing-in a new age for Smartphones, and a new age for India as well.
Contact: Ushma Mody: Ushmamody28@gmail.com
Jeff Rosenfeld: Rosenfej@newschool.edu
Forbes, “India Becomes the World’s Second-Largest Smartphone Market,” 3 February,2016.
NDTV Correspondent, “Mitashi Play Senior Friend Android Smartphone Launched at Rs. 4,999” Gadgets 360, October 21 2014.”
NDTV Correspondent, “Five Senior-Friendly Phones Available in India, October 14, 2014.
The Times Of India, Seniors Ditch Old Tech, Call On Smartphones. November 7, 2014. Saritha Raj.
Wikipedia, “List of Countries [N=70] by Number of Mobile Phones in Use”.
Biosketch: Ushma Mody graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Parsons, the New School for Design (New York), majoring in Interior Design. Her favored secondary subject was history – of art, design and architecture. During her time at Parsons, she was named to the Dean’s list, and also won the award for Outstanding Design upon graduating. She worked for Wid Chapman Architects in New York, post-graduation. She currently lives in India with her family, and will be a Masters student at New York School of Interior Design, beginning in the Fall 2016, semester. At NY School of Design she will focus on designing Sustainable Interior Environments.
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