When NOT to buy a Smartphone

Cell Phones for Seniors who can't use a SmartphoneI do love smartphones and tablets (especially the Apple iPhone & iPad). They’re like having a powerful computer in your pocket and support all sorts of mHealth (mobile health) apps, but I have to admit they aren’t for everyone.

As I read through the 13 articles about “Advancing the mHealth Ecosystem,” I remembered today’s conversation with a dear friend that expanded my perspective. She’s about to give up her iPhone 4 and go back to using a flip-phone. Since I often promote Apple smartphones and tablets for seniors (she’s not yet 60), and my wife talked her into the iPhone a year ago, this was a bit of a shock, so I had her explain. 

Driving Danger

Answering a call on a flip-phone was a snap (open & talk), but the smartphone required touching the display a certain way, and she said that was an unsafe driving distraction. Worse was texting, so she prefers to not even have a phone that does that.

Capacitive Touch

She complained about sometimes being unable to unlock the phone or launch an app by touching the screen. Apparently this is a problem with many others whose fingers lack the needed conductivity, possibly because of dry skin. I too have experienced that and understand her frustration, and while buying a stylus might help, that’s another thing to carry and not a good solution.

Poor Cellular Service

She gets poor broadband or cellular service on her property and often doesn’t even receive calls or texts until she leaves. Her mobile phone is just for phone calls when she’s away from the land line phone, and a simple flip-phone is cheaper and easier to use for that. If she wants to run apps later, she could do that on an iPod Touch or iPad tablet with larger screen, since she doesn’t need mobility for those apps.


Those are all legitimate reasons for choosing an older flip-style phone instead of a much more advanced and capable smartphone. So I shared my new perspective with colleagues discussing the articles online, citing two specific articles.

Legacy Devices

A key line in Dr. Terheyden’s article, mHealth’s role in humanizing healthcare, is “The tradition of the physician as dictator and the patient as (an innocent) bystander seems to be hard to let go of.”

As a consumer advocate, I see that as a warning for health practitioners not to edict to patients what technology, including smartphones, they should use, but instead support the technology they already have.

Internet-based Apps

From Dr. Kim’s article, Rules of Engagement“Mobile devices and health apps can be highly instrumental in educating patients about broad health promotion topics or focused disease-specific topics.”

But whether it’s for education, reminders, or any other purpose, developing device-specific apps places artificial limits on the number of patients that can use them. Better would be Internet-based apps that can be accessed by any web browser, on a smartphone (Android, iOS, Windows 8, Blackberry, or Symbian), tablet, PC or Mac.

Internet of Things

Dr. Peter Ragusa argues that “Convergence of mobile technologies, web-based software, low-power, low-cost hardware and connectivity will usher in a new era of healthcare.”

I can’t agree more, but the wearable sensors and “Internet of things” that he spoke of can also connect tablets, PCs, and directly to remote services through gateway devices. They aren’t just for smartphones. Hopefully I was able to convince some of the product developers to expand their vision of what’s include in this new era of modern healthcare, mHealth as I refer to it.

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