Too Old For Your Smartphone? Study Claims Over 55 Set Wants Simple Devices

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-02-14

Too Old For Your Smartphone? Study Claims Over 55 Set Wants Simple Devices

According to a research report released Feb. 14 by In-Stat, people over 55 aren't interested in the complexity of smartphones. The report claims that the research proves that older users want numerical keypads and that they're not interested in QWERTY keyboards, which the report calls a "gaming-oriented form factor." If this sounds like a disconnect to you, get ready for more. 

The report, based on about 900 self-selected participants, only measures participants over 55 or under 55 with no rationale for why that particular age division was chosen. Furthermore, it seems to ignore the vast market for smartphones that aren't used for gaming.

Apparently the entire universe of BlackBerries was ignored, as were iPhones and the segment of Android devices that are sold primarily as corporate devices. According to this study, the only two options are a gaming device, or a plain old cell phone. Some details are in the In-Stat press release, but the complete report will cost you nearly $3,000. 

According to the study, users over 55 aren't interested in Bluetooth, WiFi, memory-card slots or e-mail. Apparently those of us over 55 (including me) shouldn't be sold smartphones. After all, if the analyst who performed this study is correct, the phone companies are wasting their time. I guess now that I've read this study I need to dig out my old Motorola RAZR and turn off the Bluetooth feature; of course, that means I won't be able to use the phone while I drive, but clearly I'm probably too old to be driving anyway. 

So with that study in mind, perhaps it's time for some actual facts. Let's start with facts about me. I'm over 55 (which is pretty obvious from my photo). I use a BlackBerry, which I know will come as a terrible shock to those who have asserted stridently that I must be an iPhone or Android fanatic. I like the QWERTY keyboard, and I use WiFi and Bluetooth daily. My editor, who is nearly as old as I am, uses an iPhone. And just to confuse the issue even more, I've been reviewing Android phones for eWEEK for a long time. 

Regarding the survey, the bottom line is that the word survey implies some sort of scientific study with an established methodology. In-Stat's report, despite its name, is neither a survey nor does it qualify as research, unless you're willing to expand the definition of "research" beyond its commonly used meanings. To qualify as a real survey, In-Stat should have used a randomly selected set of respondents. In addition, it should have chosen each criterion in the survey according to generally accepted principles of demographic behavior. 

Too Old For Your Smartphone? Study Claims Over 55 Set Wants Simple Devices

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For example, the survey assumes that the choices for all people (randomly chosen or not) over 55 are the same. It doesn't take into account that most in the 55-to-65 age range are probably still in the workforce. Nor does it take into account that older people likely need accommodations for special needs, such as highly visible displays. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the study assumes that everyone younger than 55 has the same preferences for smartphones, such as a "gamer" orientation. When I talked with the researcher involved, he seemed bewildered by the fact that I was questioning his methodology. However, he also seemed bewildered by the fact that I was familiar with survey methodology at all, which may tell you something. 

The real problem with this publication from In-Stat is that its customers are wireless vendors who might actually be influenced by its alleged findings. So let's say it here: This publication has no basis in reality. In-Stat is selling a $3,000 report that pretends to be valid research but isn't, and that perpetuates a stereotype of people over 55 that has no basis in reality. It's clearly being presented as something new and unexpected, but the reason it's unexpected is that the findings are false. 

Now, I'm not going to indulge in reverse ageism just because the head researcher for this project is in his 20s. I am, however, going to suggest that lack of experience may play a role here. Any researcher who had ever conducted a real survey would know that the criteria in this survey had no validity and that calling this research was stretching the truth. 

So the question is, why did In-Stat let this obviously flawed product see the light of day? I can't tell you the answer to that since I don't work there, and they're not likely to tell me, although I did ask. 

But I think the bottom line is that they didn't think their prospective customers would actually look beyond the assertions in this document and ask where the data came from. Of course, that's a problem with material presented as research-too many people take it at face value and don't look beyond the claims to see if they make sense. This time, the ageism and flawed methodology are simply too hard to miss. 


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