Apps for the elderly? Why Android is not just for the cool kids any more

by Marty Gabel

The Doro Phone Easy 740 is one of the simplest Android devices you will ever see, and that is precisely its selling point. With its big, rubberized touch pad, simple interface and louder volume, this device might not win any awards in a beauty contest. But it’s an easy-to-use smartphone that can still run Android apps. The PhoneEasy 740 will cost $99, and it is slated for commercial availability in spring of next year.

The flexibility of Android

It’s a testament to the flexibility of the Android ecosystem that such a phone can exist. Its clean and crisp interface, dubbed the ‘Doro Experience’, is built on top of Android and showcases large, visible icons, and simplified versions of popular apps like Facebook. There is also a handy app called ‘Doro Manager’ which is an online management tool allowing the user (or someone they know) to input info like upcoming doctor's appointment into the calendar app.

At a different level, Amazon already showed what it could do with a heavily tweaked version of Android with its Kindle Fire tablet. Though it also uses Android as its base, Amazon’s operating system has been adapted to fit better with the company’s content offerings and offers an experience a little different from what users will find on other Android tablets. It is proving to be a success as well.

Doro is also tweaking Android for its needs, and that is an encouraging sign for Google’s Android OS as it finds itsway onto more and more devices. Also, this is a pattern we are likely to see more of in the future. For many Android purists of course, such enhancements aren’t always welcome. But it’s clear that in the future we are going to see more individual manufacturers and developers creating operating systems based on Android (and still running it), but with their own skins, enhancements and features more prominently featured. Hopefully, for the purists, there will always be a Google Nexus device, at least!

Apps for accessibility

Many elderly people may not need or want a new Dora smartphone, especially if they have an Android device already. For those folks, there are still a lot of very useful apps in the Google Play store that can enhance their Android experience. And no, we’re not just talking about novelty apps like Make Me Old.

Simple Phone Seniors Phonotto has a few useful tricks up its sleeve. It offers a large home screen optimized for elderly people or those with poor sight. There are big buttons and large fonts for all the basic functions like the phone and SMS, and conveniently, the app automatically loads on startup. Just a beat offering right now, it still has a way to go, but it’s a promising start for sure.

Perhaps all you really need is a keyboard without such tiny keys? Heck, even us young’uns sometimes have trouble with our fat fingers and small, virtual keyboards. If that’s the case, check out Big Buttons Keyboard. Initially free (with a deluxe version available for $2.99), it works on tablets or smartphones and features bigger letter, number and punctuation buttons. This helps make typing just that little bit easier and more accurate. The paid version even includes word prediction, themes, a voice-to-text microphone and cursor keys.

Apps for safety

The Safety NET app monitors the phone’s accelerometer for signs of a sudden fall. If triggered, it sends your personalized emergency contact (which you can set to 911 or a person you know) a text message. It can even dial a phone number while leaving the speaker phone on for you to talk with them, if able. A handy countdown timer allows you to stop the alert if you have just dropped your phone or fallen during a sporting activity, for example. For just $0.99, it could be a true lifesaver.

Rescue Me!, also $0.99, offers similar functionality, but from a different perspective. It closely monitors whether or not someone you care about is OK. You can preset the app to automatically send a “rescue me” text message every day at a specific time. The person with the phone then gets a notice that the text will be sent in a customizable number of minutes unless they deactivate it. Thus, if you get the message, something may be wrong. It’s simple yet effective.

Generally speaking...

Finally, there are all manner of helpful, free medical reference apps available on Android too. Take your pick from WebMD for Android or iTriage for general health reference, or the more complex Epocrates which features a massive drug reference database including drug interaction warnings, dosages and more. An app like CPR Choking offers instant videos on how to perform CPR and aid a choking victim, and there are many more like it in the Google Play store. Of course, none of these apps can take the place of sound medical advice from a properly qualified professional, but they’re still useful in their own right.