Sunday, 27 November 2011

Choosing a telecare mobile phone

The telephone is a simple device that has been with us for many years in various forms. In recent years it has undergone some considerable revolutions allowing hands-free communication, number identification and a range of other features to enhance the experience. For older people, big button phones appeared which were ideal for the visually impaired and phones with loop settings aided the hearing impaired.

The mobile phone is a new development for many. Although most people have a mobile phone, their potential is often not realised. Just as Microsoft Office can do amazing things most people use it for typing things and generally use only a fraction of what it can do.

It seemed to be a good idea to think about phones. Phones make and an ideal gift for parents who are less than tech savvy. The mobile phone has changed so much and continues to evolve with new models three to four times a year. As Steve Jobs understood, the traditional computer is less likely to be developed as handheld mobile devices are likely to proliferate the market. This could happen if the experience of the person using the mobile is equal to their expectations.

I have a confession, I love mobile phones and am passionate about the variety available and which is the best. When it came to my upgrade, I spent months working through exactly the specifications that I needed from my new phone before making the decision.

The mobile market is interesting as it currently has four main operating systems: Windows mobile, Apple IOS, Android (from Google) and Blackberry which are available on the mass market.There are other operating systems out there but these are the big four.

Each operating system has its own usability issues and positive and negative features. The phone manufacturer can also add the the features as can your phone operator by limiting some functions and expanding others, so already you can see that the choice of phone is very difficult.

The mobile phone makes a potentially excellent telecare device. The difficulty is matching the phone to the person. There are a range of simple display phones available. There are also phones with clear well defined keys to enable dialling. There are large displays phones which enable people with visual difficulties to see what they are dialling or writing and loop phones for the hearing impaired, but are these telecare phones? There are a number of mobiles that provide dedicated digits or an extra button which can be dedicated to sending a call through to a pre-specified recipient. These can be useful as long as the person using the phone has the capacity to operate it when required and will operate it.

Mobile phones have a range of other things that might be worth considering. Applications, or apps that can be downloaded from the operating system provider and can be very useful for making a phone into a medical device or reminder system, ideal for people with medical conditions or memory problems. Each operating system has its own apps and it is worth considering the apps available before buying a phone, similarly the ease of downloading them and the reliability are key things to think about. Viruses and malware are problems with smart phones where you can download apps to and the operating systems way that they deal with malware and viruses is also something to consider prior to purchase.

Location, location, location... Many phones have simple location devices built in and most smart phones have a range of locating software built in to the phone which can be used to locate a lost older person and provide a map home (if maps are built in and preprogrammed). Having maps and location properties on a mobile is only the beginning as the actual software that comes with the maps might be too difficult for the user to use so actually playing with the location software is very important in the decision process.

Gyroscopes and accelerometers can be built into phones which can be set to alert a friend or family when someone falls. These are a great idea and well worth exploring but always test the functionality of them before purchase. Do they trigger false alerts? Do they not work when someone actually falls? These conditions can easily be replicated in a shop. It is also important to consider the alert call that could be produced and who is to respond. There is no point in living a long way away and being the first call number, ideally a neighbour or a call centre would be be better, as speed of getting to the person who has fallen is most important, but read the blog entry on fall detectors before considering purchasing this on a phone.

The downside to location services and fall detection is the additional battery usage. As phones have become smarter, more applications run undetected, in the background, constantly working things out, such as where the phone is and at what angle is. All this background data analysis consumes battery life and timely changing of a mobile phone is a critical feature for modern smartphones. Although the battery life that the manufacturers provides are accurate, they are before any applications are downloaded and location and other services are activated. If you want a phone with ‘bells and whistles’ you pay with battery life, so expect to charge the phone daily. This can be a difficulty for some people so the capacity to do this is essential.

Sound quality, network coverage and ability to use the phone are actually the most important aspects to consider in a phone when purchasing it for someone else. A good phone should enable a the person to make calls easily, be able to hear the person they call and have a call go through from where they live without needing to go outside.

Finally, don't forget about the cost of calls and network coverage, the smarter the phone and the more things it does the more likely it will use more bandwidth even if no calls are made as there will be a lot of things sending and receiving data on the phone so ensure the package is one that enables the person to use the phone as they would like.

In sum, a mobile phone is potentially a very good telecare device providing the ability to alert others when a difficulty arises, but just because a phone sounds good does not mean it will be the correct phone for the person. Hopefully, issues already addressed in this blog will help in the decision process and this entry has highlighted the main things to think about.
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