Last weekend I visited my mother in law for her 70th birthday. Since it far and remote and takes a day to get there it was a 4 day weekend. Besides being far, it was also very disconnected. Since a few years there is GSM coverage, but no 3G and no DSL on fixed line. So no possibility to write this post really in the weekend.
During the visit I made an interesting observation. My mother in law owns and uses a mobile phone, she is 'in touch' with technology. However the usage pattern is almost the same as with her previous fixed line. The phone has a permanent place in the home, next to a paper list with important phone numbers. There are a few numbers in the phone memory that she sometimes uses, but often is making a call is just typing the number and pressing the green button. It works and she is happy. Basic use works, but she needs help with more advanced features as storing phone numbers in memory.
My own mom, in her 70's also has a mobile phone, but can't use it. It frustrates her, because she does see the advantages. A few weeks back we talked about it and it really took some time before I understood. She was telling me all the time 'It goes black'. What did it mean? When the phone is locked it tried to preserve energy by blacking out the display after a few seconds of inactivity. Every time she tried to unlock the phone (Menu - * on a Nokia) she couldn't remember the button sequence and needed to read the screen for instructions. However reading the screen took longer than the inactivity period.... and the screen would go black again. Making her start over again. I'm pretty sure this never showed up in a usability lab.
As an experiment I gave her my iPhone with only 1 remark. If you don't know anymore press this (the home) button. She doesn't master the English language, but without any help managed to make a phone call.
We talk about elderly people and technology... as well as we talk about the business opportunity that lays into this group in the society... always remember the target group when you design your products!
I however doubt if Apple had a 70+ year old in their usability lab.... could someone tell me that?