Elderly Need Super-Simple, Phone-like Skype
By now many of you have probably seen, and chuckled about, this delightful video that went viral of a senior couple goofin’ around with their webcam. These two are trying to figure out how to use it (and having fun in the process) but the humor obscures the reality: Using a computer, using Skype, and making certain Skype’s audio/video inputs are set correctly is befuddling to most senior citizens!
Let me tell you a story that may mirror many of your own to illustrate why we need a brain-dead-simple Skype phone that is as cheap, super-simple to operate, and as powerful as a landline phone.
It’s a few years ago and I’m in my home office on a Saturday, facing the street and my neighbors house across it. I bear witness to my elderly neighbors — he a fairly tech-savvy retired Fortune 100 executive and she a loving mother and grandmother — saying a very emotional farewell to their son, daughter-in-law, and two toddler grandsons.
The son is an executive at a different Fortune 100 company and the family was headed to Europe for two years to open a new line of business. My elderly neighbors would have only one visit during that time and I immediately thought, “Oh geez…those two boys will grow up so fast and forget them” so I had to do something.
I sent my neighbor and email clearly laying out all of the power of Skype, that it was free, that if he and his son each had a webcam that they could see one another and talk often. The biggest reason to do it was to maintain (and continue to build) grandpa and grandma’s relationship with those two little boys.
Not hearing anything for two weeks, I feared that I’d stepped WAY out of bounds as a neighbor. But what happened next surprised even me.
At the end of two weeks I got a huge email from my former executive neighbor. Not only was he appreciative, he actually felt bad that it had been two weeks before he responded!
Turns out that same Saturday he went out and bought a webcam. He talked to his brother down South for an hour each Sunday and, that very next day, he convinced his brother to go buy one too.
“Steve, we’ve been talking every single day since for an hour!” he exclaimed in the email. “When I called my brother in Tennessee, after he had installed Skype (but didn’t yet have his webcam), of course he saw me on mine. He was so excited he called to his wife shouting “come look at this!!” He immediately went out and bought one.
After we bumped in to one another in our yards a few weeks later and talked for over an hour (my wife and I love these people) he told me how his wife was reading stories to the boys in London and they had such a great opportunity to be deeply connected to them. Months later, after their own holiday trip to the U.K. to see his son and family, he told me that using Skype for so many months, “really made us feel like we hadn’t been apart.”
Wow. So glad I took the risk to send him the original email evangelizing Skype to him.
SKYPE IS TOO HARD FOR MOST ELDERLY
Now that my Dad is 85 years old and my sisters and I all have Skype — and since he has a cable internet connection for the computer in the back bedroom he can’t get to anymore — I’ve been seeking ways we can leverage that internet connection he still pays for monthly. One way I’ve done so is that I purchased a cheap Wifi router for $20 (made by DLink for TMobile and they were blowing them out) so my sisters and I could use our laptops at his house when we need to be there for him or want to show him stuff online.
He’s always stunned when my wife is somewhere abroad (she travels extensively to Europe) and we Skype. She can say “hi” to him, he to her, but whenever we disconnect he looks at me and simply says, “It’s magic and is so very interesting.”
I’ve looked at all sorts of solutions for him but he needs push-button Skype. Asus makes a Skype, standalone videophone that retailed for $249 (as of this writing it’s available at Amazon in silver grey for $149). Though $99 would be a magic price point, in my opinion, the issue is one I’ve read about on several forums: The Skype software in this device is no longer supported but still works…so I’m highly reluctant to buy one for him.
I’ve explored using an iPod Touch (too small); docking an iPod Touch to his TV (too hard to deal with audio input so far away); a tablet with a camera in it running Skype (iPad is $499 and, even though an Android-based one could be had for under $240, they require serious geek-cred to make work and he’d be confused).
Netbooks are too challenging as well. He (and dozens of other seniors I know) simply need a brain-dead-simple, phone-like Skype device that they could make and accept video calls on.
My wife and I are at the tail end of the baby boom generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — and over this decade the U.S. will end up with 70 million of us retired.
This Wikipedia article on the baby boom generation states in part, “Baby Boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than 50% of discretionary spending power. They are responsible for more than half of all consumer spending, buy 77% of all prescription drugs, 61% of OTC medication and 80% of all leisure travel.”
So is this a market? Yep. Will Microsoft make a Skype phone now that they own them? Maybe, but it will probably have 57 buttons that bring up modal menus that change with the weather (kidding!). Let’s hope someone seizes this opportunity ASAP.
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.