World’s First Smartphone Owner Is Now 75 Years Old

Patronize Current-Day Seniors at Your Own Risk


We don’t know exactly who the first smartphone owner was, but we can picture the scenario. Back in the 1990s, smartphones were exclusive devices. The nomenclature was different and the term smartphone wasn’t used, but the cross pollination between handsets and computing devices was well underway.

Products such as IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator and Nokia’s 9000 Communicator were around at the time. They were must-have devices for gadget geeks, but were high-end, exclusive phones intended for executives who had the budget for the hardware and the exorbitant connection fees. The devices may have been status symbols, but also proved their worth as productivity tools. There was suddenly no escaping the office.

Let’s imagine that one of the first users of these revolutionary handsets was an oil executive in their early 50s. This trailblazing executive is now retired and into their 70s. We certainly know a few.

There’s no fear of technology among these early users, but rather eager acceptance. This reminds us that the market for “senior” devices is becoming the market for devices. There is no difference. The window of opportunity for creating products which dumb down the technology for the older generation of users is closing fast.

Today’s seniors are increasingly comfortable with bits and bytes and settings and set-ups. The 1990s are already a long time ago, but the skills from that decade are very portable into the current smartphone era.

Companies looking to cater specifically to older audiences should be aware that there’s a growing risk of appearing condescending. Most generations have grown with technology and the tech knowledge clock doesn’t reset at retirement.

There are, of course, physical revisions over time, particularly adjustments for eyesight (and rarely positives ones), but touch-pinch-zoom can suffice as a way to modify user-interfaces.

We’re reaching a point when the typical grandparent has had a handset for over a decade. There’s less of a chance of shocking a user into a simplified product or service plan. Retired users have become mainstream users. We’re all in this together now.