A guiding principles of the smartphone business is that the younger the customer, the more likely to embrace advanced features. For the elderly, feature phones – old-style Nokias and Samsungs that don’t have touchscreens – retain popularity, because some older people lack the dexterity to handle the finger flicks needed to interact with smart devices, and those who are technophobes aren’t interested in those features anyway.
Amir Alon, CEO of Israeli start-up E2C (Easy to Connect) begs to differ.
“If a smartphone makes it easier for young people to keep in touch – to see photos and get instant messages – it can do the same for the elderly, and our adaptation of smartphone technology opens those doors for the elderly,” he said.
The E2C technology, already on the market in Israel and soon to be introduced in the US, provides an easy and uncomplicated interface that lets anyone, young or old, interact with devices to see photos, get messages, surf the Internet, read news, and anything else that smartphones are used for, said Alon.
E2C’s LG (in Israel) and Samsung (in the US) devices include an adaptation of the Android operating system that presents seniors with an interface they can relate to, said Alon.
“The menu is specially designed with a large display showing the options, including making a call, reading messages, viewing photos, and so on. Touch has been replaced by long clicks – meaning they have to keep their finger on the screen for a few seconds in order to get a response – which our research has shown is much easier for seniors to use, so when they click on one of the categories, the system responds at a pace that they feel comfortable with.
“In addition, keyboards and dial pads require a long click, and when the letter or number is entered, there is a vibration, giving them an indication that they should go on to the next letter or number.”
The system can be voice activated as well, and here E2C’s take on photos and messaging is novel.
“On smartphones you usually have different sources for messages, like SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook, etc.,” said Alon. “When a notification comes in, users usually press on it to open up the message and its app so they can respond through the app. We have a single message center, so when a message comes in there is only one click needed to read and respond. All the messages from all messaging apps show up there.”
The same goes for photos and videos, regardless of their source; all can be viewed in a single interface when the user presses the Pictures button. “There is also a printed ‘New’ label when a new photo or message comes in. It’s all very clear and easy to navigate.”
For more adept users, there are interfaces for the Internet, a camera function, a flashlight, a news reader, and even the possibility of adding apps, like Waze, with access using the same easy interface.
“In addition, we are offering an emergency call service as an add-on – a red button that is attached to the headphone port – which, if pressed, will automatically call an emergency service, which, depending on level of service and the package they have, will immediately make phone calls to a doctor or family members, or even dispatch emergency services,” said Alon, adding that the company is working on projects to include the technology in tablets and even TVs.
E2C’s business is helping seniors to communicate more easily and in a more enjoyable manner. But despite developing a helping technology, E2C is a business, which Alon and his partners hope will make money – and that makes it the right fit for The Rally, a Tel Aviv accelerator dedicated to providing a home for socially conscious businesses like E2C, said Larry Akerman, co-founder of TechForGood, a booster for social-tech startups and a partner sponsor of The Rally with Hub TLV.
The Rally is the first Israeli accelerator specifically designed to encourage “social tech” start-ups – companies that develop technologies to help individuals, but are profit-making businesses.
“Israeli entrepreneurs have developed a lot of helping technologies, but until now they have been treated the same as other projects,” said Akerman. “We decided to set up an accelerator specifically for their needs, helping them present their business cases to investors in a way they can understand.”
One unique aspect of The Rally is that participation is free and without strings; the accelerator does not take equity from participants, and does not charge them rent. “It’s all paid for by the sponsors,” said Akerman. “Our hope is that this will encourage more entrepreneurs with social tech ideas to pursue them and turn their dreams into products. There is no reason Israel shouldn’t be a center of this technology.”