If you feel that current smartphone technology is failing you, you’re not alone – according to research done by the eSafety Commissioner, 43% of older Australians have stopped using their smartphones. The number rises to a staggering 64% for people over 80 years.
The Digital Literacy Foundation’s mission is to foster digital literacy and inclusion. We understand that not all people are able to use smartphones.
We sat down with Libby Henderson, co-founder of BigPurplePhone, to discuss their phone, how it works and why it exists.
You started BigPurplePhone to video chat with your elderly mother during Covid. What are the main ways you feel current technology fails Australian seniors?
Much of the current technology – particularly smart phones – are largely unusable for many seniors, and in this way the industry has failed them dismally. Every day, we come across people who tell us they have given up on using their mobile phones because they have lost confidence. Many people just want their phone to be a phone. It should be simpler for them.
Banking and passwords can be confusing, so even trying to clear identity questions becomes an enormous challenge. Talking to a telco, or trying to pay a bill, can be stressful and difficult. Remembering passwords, PIN numbers, using multi-factor authentication – all these tasks become complicated and confusing.
This confusion is compounded by the fact that 1 in 4 seniors live alone. Technology is the medium by which we all stay connected, but when that technology is impossible to use, people are left lonely and isolated.
Back in 2000, there was a technology movement by a group of developers named the “Agile Manifesto’’. It consisted of a set of principles setting out how to develop technology so that the needs of the customer came first in digital design. In many ways, technology has let seniors down. These design principles are there, but many developers ignore them.
Remedying this is what drives us at BigPurplePhone. I personally find it unconscionable that our competitors make mobile phones that a great percentage of seniors simply can’t use. Have you ever tried to actually use the magnifying glass or set up Accessibility settings on a smartphone? It’s maddeningly difficult.
If you had to “sell” BigPurplePhone in a sentence or two, how would you do it?
BigPurplePhone is the no fandangle, easy-to-use Australian smartphone for seniors. BigPurplePhone has simple functionality and big buttons, big text, an SOS Emergency button, no scam calls or spam, and an easy to use social app.
What are your favourite features of the phone?
Well, I’m really proud to say that I helped to design the BigPurplePhone! It contains many sensible features, such as big buttons and big text, but what I love most is that it is fun to use. The home screen is like a poker machine in that you can move it up and down. I love to see someone with dementia playing with it for the first time! That’s always fun.
The safe callers list, which makes the phone secure, is another of my favourite features. Only contacts that are saved on the phone can call, which means that scammers can’t get to your senior.
We also re-imagined the way text messages are sent, and re-designed a simpler, high contrast keyboard. On the BigPurplePhone, you don’t need to enter another layer of the keyboard if you want to add an exclamation mark or an emoji to a message, the way you have to on a regular phone. We’ve removed all the complicating factors.
Another feature I love about the BigPurplePhone is the way we do notifications. If you miss a call on a regular phone, the notification is so small that many struggle to see it. It can also be hard to find the little dot once the notification goes away. Many seniors miss calls, but then don’t know who called, or if it was a call or a message. The BigPurplePhone has a full screen take over that tells the customer if someone has called or messaged them while they weren’t looking at their phone. One tap, and they can easily return their missed call, message, or video call.
How would you help someone who wasn’t sure if moving to BigPurplePhone was the right step for them?
We understand that choosing a new phone can be daunting, and that there is a lot to consider. We have a call centre that specialises in helping senior customers. I invite you to call and have a chat. We will listen and see if we can help. Our customer care team can be reached on (02) 9188 6998.
Once someone has received their phone, do you provide them with assistance to continue using it?
We certainly do. Many carers, children and grandchildren are technical support for their loved ones. But you never need to worry with the BigPurplePhone – there is a Help button on the phone that goes straight through to our call centre.
Do you still encourage people who use your product to use other technology to watch streaming services or play games, for example?
Yes. We find that many of our customers like their phone to just be a phone. They feel secure that their phone number is safe. Many have their banking or entertainment on a tablet or computer.
What has been the most exciting part of seeing BigPurplePhone grow into what it is today?
Honestly, it’s very personal. I am so proud of what my husband James and I have done together. We are both in our 50s, and invested everything we own at this late stage in life to make the BigPurplePhone a reality. It’s been very challenging at times. One day, I was sitting with a lovely elegant senior lady showing her the BigPurplePhone. She was very wobbly and not very confident. She stopped and said to me with wonder, “Did you design all this? Aren’t you clever! Thank you so much for doing this for us”. I almost cried there and then. It was a beautiful moment. It has been worth every effort.