Seniors and mobile attract big crowd in Paris (Mobile Monday Paris)

Posted on January 19 2011 by Anna

It was my first-ever Mobile Monday experience so I have no objective comparison, but upon arriving at the famous Parisian co-working space, La Cantine (fashionably late, bien sur!) I was really taken aback  by a huge crowd that gathered here (and must have been on time!). The presentation room was filled to the rim and there were people covering every square foot of the ’social area’, some folks were even watching the screen from outside (but then, hey, it’s France, they were probably just smoking ;-) ). If I am wrong with my assumptions that the exceptional crowd which flocked into the Mobile Monday venue was drawn by the particular theme of the evening, than chapeaux bas to MoMo Paris organizers for being such an incredible crowd-magnet (later at home I read that the Paris edition boasts to be the most frequented one in the world of Mobile Mondays). However, I will take the liberty of being a Mobile Monday newbie and assume that the numbers had to have something to do with the popularity of the subject of mobility and senior citizens. Especially, that many participants seemed to be in that ’senior’ age category – and I don’t know about Mobile Mondays, but that was the first time I’ve seen so many older people at a Paris tech event.

I missed the introduction by Bernard Benhamou of Proxima Mobile who spoke about Les évolutions des services mobiles (the evolution of mobile services). The first presenter I caught (or rather watched standing on a small monitor in the social area of La Cantine) was Caroline Noublanche, the President of Prylos presenting “the expectactions of senior consumers in face of the new mobile terminals”. The objective of the Prylos project is to develop a mobile portal aimed at senior users which simplifies use (they have chosen Android technology for that). Simplicity and a service which evolves over time are the two main ideas here. A qualitative study was conducted in October which showed that the applications favoured by this age group were simple such as weather or photos apps. Also simple games such as Sudoku or Scrabble will also be included in the final downloadable product.

The next presenter was Laurence Fossé from Orange Healthcare initiative talking about the experiences of working on health télé-assistance project.  Statistics show 60% of seniors in France, however those over 70 tend to have considerable inhibitions and fear when faced with new technologies. Hence the development of a new market niche: mobile phones for senior consumers which are adapted to the particular needs of their users. The fact that older people use mobile phones as a means to maintain their social ties and improve the quality of their day-to-day lives only proves how important this market is. An example presented by Laurence Fossé of a mobile with a special button on the back which puts you in touch with an assistant who has a file on the caller’s health history and people to contact. They see if what is needed is just a reassurance or a call to a doctor/ member of family. Great initiatives, however they can be really challenging – first of all, they only address small niches of society, and second they function for a limited period of time, until the user enters the fragility phase. Experiments done with Mairie of XV arrondissement in Paris only showed how difficult it is just to teach a basic mobile phone usage skills to a person with an Alzheimer…

A really cool project was presented by David Katz of  Cookineo, “a visual cooking company”. Cookineo’s idea is to be to the kitchens what GPS is to the cars. The idea was tested on a small group of seniors working with tablets – of course when you cook, you cannot touch them with your fingers, so you snap your fingers and - voilà !

A balanced diet being a huge issue these days, Cookineo has developed applications that should help with that and deficiencies of senior people. They are also looking into distributing and sharing the receipts to mimic the traditional mother-daugher passing on culinary knowledge… for that social networks like Facebook will be used.  The sharing of the recipes will start in March 2011 – they are currently looking for beta testers and partners, so if you’d like to become a part of the private beta community, contact them on: contact[AT]cookineo.com.

The presentations concluded with Claudio Vandi sharing the results of a study on senior citizens (63 to 80 year-olds) and tablets. The results will be published in a White Paper in March. The research was trying to answer the question: if the level of complexity should be removed to make the new tablets appealing to seniors, what vital services should be included? The main advantages of tablets according to seniors are: the absence of cables, natural posture, fun to use and easiness of sharing. They also like the “wireless Internet” factor, the fact that they use it in bed late at night – it is becoming like a favourite book. I loved the fact that when asked to name the favourite apps the French seniors chose The Louvre and Monet (oh you just gotta love the French love of all things culture :-) ).

All in all I was really pleased with my first Mobile Monday Paris experience – and pleasantly surprised by the numbers and quality of initiatives aimed at bringing the mobile technologies to the older part of the society, as well as by the numbers of people who showed up at La Cantine to listen about the developments. It’ s nice to see that the latest platforms and applications are not just treated as ‘cool gadgets for the cool kids’, that there is a will to make it inclusive and to enrich the lives of all members of society. I must admit that personally I haven’t look into this topic much, but found the research and the projects really interesting – and will definitely be on a look out for some more case studies in this area.

There’s one question, however, that has not left me since Monday night: do the people who we classify as ’seniors’ themselves not see some of this talk of ’simplifying’ and ‘removing the complexity’ a little bit patronising? After all, we are not only talking about 75-year-olds who have never used internet technologies much, officially ’senior’ are also people in my parents’ age who are still professionally active and use computers and mobiles in their daily lives… On Le Figaro’s write up of the event I found a comment left by a ’senior’ blogger tilly which only reinstated my doubts…

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