New computer designed for the elderly

I was surprised to read this morning that a computer for the elderly has been launched.

Now I must admit I was pessimistic to start with.
Reading about a computer especially for the elderly, invokes similar reactions as hearing about the creation of a computer for gay people, or a computer for people of mixed race. I’m just not entirely sure there’s actually a need for it.

There is undoubtedly a lot of people who don’t have a computer at home, and/or don’t use the Internet and/or don’t understand computers at all.
This isn’t restricted to the elderly though.
My grandma is well into her 80s, and she can use a computer well enough to try out email, research some family history, etc.
She went on a free course for that. I’ve taught her nothing.

So what’s wrong with it?

Having read through the article and the website of the product, I’ve got several problems with the idea/scheme.

Firstly, it mixes itself from beginners basic, through to technical jargon and back again.
Looking on the SimplicITy website, there are two models available, called the “Suite 100” and “Suite 200”. I’d have given them names and not model numbers, but that’s just me. (Yes, even I don’t like model numbers. What’s a Samsung e9897-x/uk when it’s at home?)

The basic model says: “simplicity : model 100 – energy efficient, cool and quiet running”, and then tails off into a load of what will be mindless jargon for the novice (presumably for if you’re a geek buying this for your gran).
The better model says: “simplicity : model 200 – smaller and quieter than model 100”
So model 100 is quiet, but 200 is quieter? So clearly the 100 can’t be that quiet?
The computers are so small and basic, they should be fanless/silent anyway. Especially given the price.

Price = HOW MUCH?!

The most basic model (and it really IS basic processor wise, RAM isn’t even mentioned), including a 19″ screen, keyboard, mouse, etc is £435.99.
Delivery is another £10, and there’s no getting away from it, because they’re not available in shops.
The best part of £450 would easily buy you a Dell/HP. The Dell/HP likely wouldn’t have a crappy Sempron processor for that price either.
(£480 today gets you a Dell with an Intel dual core processor, 20″ screen (SimplicITy is 19″ – closest match), and 3gb ram, running Windows7)

SimplicITy then have the audacity to bundle in a plug for another website. They link to a site designed to apparently help the elderly with saving money. Incredible!
Tip 1 is presumably to not buy one of these computers.

You may think that quality costs, and people don’t buy everything to the cheapest price. If that’s true for you, buy a Mac.
If that isn’t true for you, buy a Dell/HP.
Everything about this scheme just seems like a complete rip off.
They’re selling something as designed for the elderly, when all you’ve done is simplified (possibly) it a bit and increased the price. Digusting.

Bespoke = bad.

The SimplicITy system runs a bespoke front-end called “Square One” (if you get stuck you go “back to Square One” – no, really. I haven’t made that up).
It’s a front end which has no resemblance to any other operating system you’ll find Dave next door using.
If we geeks of the world have learnt nothing else from the past, it should be that the biggest problem with AOL was that it didn’t work/look like any other internet provider.
Switching from AOL to another provider became a major chore for the novice, as software, protocols, emails, browsers, were all completely different.

Which brings me onto the biggest issue:

Support? Any?

If you buy yourself a cheap Dell or HP computer, if and/or when you get a problem, you can phone/email/text/visit a friend and ask for their help. Everyone’s grandson will use Windows or a Mac these days.
A simple problem will remain just that – a problem.
Talking someone through a computer problem on the phone “blind”, requires you to have a superb knowledge of the operating system the other person is using.
There is no mention of support anywhere within the BBC article, nor on the SimplicITy website.

In fact, training seems to be entirely left to Valerie Singleton through video tutorials.


And after taking you through the basic functions you can expect from your (somewhat overpriced) computer, on the last page of the SimplicITy website, with the order form, it states at the bottom of the page:
“You will need a broadband connection. If you don’t have one already, make sure you order it as soon as you’ve placed your order for the simplicITy, so when the computer arrives you will be ready to start using your computer immediately (the wait for broadband installation can be up to 10 days).”

Way to go! They’ve taken them through the basic basics, then told people they need Internet access, which they don’t provide any further information on.
They don’t sell it, they just give a phone number for Eclipse.
Eclipse have quite a good reputation as it goes, but I hope they’re prepared for the phone calls they’ll get. People who don’t understand computers generally haven’t a clue how broadband works at all.
They’ve done the right thing at least including a phone number, instead of just a casual web link to Eclipse’s main site.

So is it even necessary?

Having until recently worked in IT support for a number of years, I’d suggest that the skills gap is not all with the elderly anyway.
There are the youngsters of today who all have computers at school, people in their 20s who experienced broadband as it was taking off (and got into BitTorrent, etc), and there are people who have retired who have more free time and can learn to use a computer.

I would suggest the worst age is late 30s through to late 50s. It’s an age-range where computers weren’t available as they’ve grown up, the world has changed to a point where they have got to use “the things” for work, and they commonly retaliate against them and have little time/interest in learning.
The difference here is that those being forced to use them for work, have the support of their IT department or outside IT organisation. If and when they get stuck on something or a problem occurs, there is someone they can phone.
And that someone will be of absolutely no use if you phone them and tell them you’re running Linux Mint edition, because they’re all trained in Macs and Windows.

The only thing that surprises me here is that this scheme is so badly conceived, I’m amazed it isn’t government funded.

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