The following statement will not qualify as the biggest news scoop ever published on CNET: Older folks are often uncomfortable with modern technology and gadgets.
It's too easy to look at the senior citizens around you and roll your eyes at their techno-hostility or seeming incompetence when it comes to using gadgets or adjusting to a world seemingly ruled more by gadgets every day. But, that's unfair when you consider the ever-increasing speed of gadget evolution we see now and how hard it is to keep up if you weren't born into the techno stream.
To give you a simple example of what your senior friends are up against, what we understand as the motor car (four wheels, internal combustion engine, etc.) emerged into public view around 1888 and was destined to change the world. But, the first successful mass-produced assembly line car in the U.S. (the Model T) didn't come along until about 20 years later. So, that's about two decades for folks to get used to the idea of motorized transport.
Comparatively, the iPhone--the first big salvo in the age of elite touch-screen smartphones that changed how we communicate, work, and socialize--was released in 2007. In just four years, we've had to get caught up on the concepts of the App Store, FaceTime, airplane mode, and Angry Birds.
So, why not nudge our silver-haired friends in getting up to speed by introducing them to gadgets that are easier--even fun--to use? While these five items are not intended as the only possible contenders, they were evaluated for ease of use, reliability, and a sort of general friendliness that will help encourage older users to pick up other gadgets not mentioned here. In no particular order:
Cobra PhoneLynx: For those older users who might not be thrilled by the world of cell phones, the PhoneLynx connects a cell phone to any traditional landline phone.
It "lets you make and receive cell phone calls on any phone in a home or small office using Bluetooth wireless technology" and pairing your cell phone to your home phone. It allows users to have a cell as their only phone while keeping that big button, touch-tone home phone operational. Cost: $59.95.
The Zomm: This tiny key chain device resembles a flying saucer, but it prevents the owner from flying away without their cell phone. After pairing with a smartphone, if the user and his or her keys get 20 to 40 feet (owner's choice) from the phone, the Zomm sounds an alarm, reminding the forgetful would-be caller to take the cell phone along.
It also fills in as a one-touch speaker phone and (in case of emergency) can send an alarm tone to local authorities--a la that old "I've fallen and I can't get up..." gizmo.
Finally, with its MyZomm feature, the user will never lose his or her keys again as the Zomm Web site can track down any Zomm in use. So, no senior moment will cost the owner a set of keys. Cost: $89.99.
Archos 3s Home Connect: Anything with a big, friendly touch screen can help older users settle in to your crazy hyper-tech world. Fortunately, the Android-powered Archos 3s has the interface down pat with big, easy to read icons.
Essentially, a high-tech clock radio, the Archos 3s, with its 3.5-inch touch screen, serves up more than 50,000 Web radio stations and an Archos app offering weather, traffic, and news personalized for use. The Archos is a good idea to introduce older folks to Internet radio because it's a good bet they already know how to use a clock radio. This just ups the ante a bit. Cost: $149.
SuperTooth HD: Most new cars in showrooms these days have an in-car speakerphone that pairs up with the driver's device. But, an older gadget user might have an older car. Fortunately, the SuperTooth HD puts full speakerphone capability into any car.
The SuperTooth also allows the user to compose text messages and e-mails from the driver's seat using voice commands, but you might want to keep that feature to yourself. We're looking to keep all of this user-friendly and accessible. Cost: $45.
The iPad: What can I say about the iPad that would be new or ground-shaking? Nothing. It's massively popular because it works. But, it's also proved very popular with seniors because of its intuitive, user-friendly interface, manageable size, and massively flexible list of functions.
When it came time for me to buy my 67-year-old mother a computer to send brag e-mails about her grandchildren, I snagged her an iPad. She loves it. That's hardly the most scientific proof of the iPad's effectiveness with older users, but I guess it's the only proof I care about, personally. Cost: starts at $499.