The KNFB Reader App released for iPhones

With apologies, we get just as frustrated writing about “one day real soon now” prototypes as you do reading about them, so we’re delighted to announce that the long-awaited KNFB Reader app for the iPhone has just been released.

KNFB, developed in a partnership between Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind, is an uncannily accurate text-to-speech translator, which uses a cell phone’s built-in camera to perform optical character recognition. For examples, see this side-by-side comparison of an earlier version of KNFB, not yet available for iPhones, to the iPhone friendly Pizmo reader. The KNFB readings are virtually error free, while the competing responses are often sadly gibberish.

Equipped with the KNFB app, an iPhone can be aimed at anything from a menu to a street sign and give an accurate reading. It even lets users know that it’s incorrectly positioned over a piece of text or that an “unidentified printed object” that came in the mail has no text on the side the phone’s being held over.Continue Reading

Thumb Extension for Smart Phones

We admit we were tempted to laugh at this clever invention, but then we realized it just might be very useful for seniors suffering from arthritis—or short fingers.

This is a real thing, according to no less than the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, this is a real thing.

We promise we’re not making this up! From gadget-loving Japan comes “Yubi Nobiiru” (finger growth), a prosthesis that looks like a long silicone thimble that you wear over your thumb to extend its reach across large cell phone screens. It’s supposed to be discretely “flesh-toned,” an accurate description if you happen to be a light-orange-skinned android.

What makes it real—and makes it work—is an embedded conductor that works on the principle of capacitance (charges across an electrical field). Our fingers themselves have slight electric charges, which is how they are able to activate the electronics in cell phones and other touchscreen devices. (For details on how this works, see this excellent illustrated overview from The Washington Post.)

Given the super-heroine graphics and the bombastic music in the video, you may find this hard to take seriously, but it’s worth thinking about where engineers could go with artificial skin capacitance. As we age, touch sensitivity can decrease while painful ailments in the hands can increase, so as silly as the Yubi Nobiiru seems, it could be the first of a new class of devices that enable seniors to function in an increasingly touchscreen world.

If you can read Japanese, you can order your own Yubi Nobiiru here.




A quick PS on the Apple Watch

Along with the new iPhones, Apple also announced the “Apple Watch,” disappointing those who were hoping it would be called the “iWatch.” According to Senior Housing News, it has some features of potential interest to seniors. We say “potential” because it doesn’t yet, ah, exist.

You are getting will give Apple all your money...

You are getting sleepy…you will give Apple all your money…

As our colleague at Health Tech Insider, Alfred Poor warns, “The demonstration units shown to the press were not fully functional, and shipments won’t start until sometime in 2015. And until you can put cash on the counter and get one of these gizmos in return, it’s not a real product because we don’t know yet what the final product will — and won’t — do.”

For now, all you need to know is:

It’s not yet available.

The announced base price is $350. And you’ll need an iPhone for it to work properly.

If you don’t already own a compatible iPhone, at least you’ve got a year to start saving!



All that Apple Excitement—What does it mean for Seniors?

We assume that today our readers fall into three groups: Those who’ve already gorged themselves on the news of Apple’s latest iPhone; those who are wondering whether there’s anything in all the hype they should care about, and those who long for a simple phone that just makes calls.

As for what you should care about, the big story is that now you can finally buy an iPhone with a larger screen, either 4.7 inches or 5.5 inches. There’s no question this is a benefit to aging eyes as well as aging hands, since it means the letters on virtual keyboards should be bigger.

Still, we must urge that if you have vision or finger flexibility concerns, you should try out any phone you plan to buy or lease in person. A reviewer’s “lightweight and elegant” may be your version of “heavy and clunky.”

The hardware should determine your choice, because unless you’re a power user, the operating system (OS) that runs your phone is likely to be fairly irrelevant to you. However, if you want to exchange data among multiple devices, such as your phone and your tablet, it will make your life easier to stick to one operating system.

That said, as more and more mobile health applications come online, which OS your phone runs may become increasingly important. Just like with software programs on desktop computers, not all apps are available or can run on all phones, so if you’re devoted to specific apps, you need to pay attention to which phone OS you choose.  For example, Apple’s new iOS8, available on its newly announced phones and downloadable on some of its older models, has a health app that will work in partnership with the Mayo Clinic.Continue Reading

Pretty and Practical: A ring that alerts

At first, Ringly struck us as one of those ridiculous person-who-has-everything items: It’s a $200-ish ring that vibrates when you get a call or other mobile message because Heaven forbid you’d take your phone out of your purse. But at second glance, we realized seniors could customize the vibrations to signal reminders of medication times, appointments, and other health alerts. And it’s gorgeous.

Clockwise from top left: Black Onyx, Pink Sapphire, Rainbow Moonstone, Emerald (sold out). Courtesy: Ringly

Clockwise from top left: Black Onyx, Pink Sapphire, Rainbow Moonstone, Emerald (sold out). Courtesy: Ringly

It looks like a high fashion gemstone ring, so even if it’s not used for its intended purpose, it’s a lovely piece of jewelry for those who can afford it. Unlike hearing aids and other obvious medical devices, there’s no reason to worry you’ll “look old,” if you wear it.

It could work well for independent seniors who’ve set health apps and medication alerts on their phones or tablets, as well as for caregivers and long-distance children who need to make sure reminders are received. If you can wear a ring to bed, you can wear Ringly. It’s water-resistant (you can wash your hands with it on), but not fully water-proof, so don’t try to swim with it.

We caution that we don’t know how heavy it is, the designers describe the 14 x 19mm center stone (that’s about ½ by ¾ of an inch) as “approximately the size of an almond.”

The rings are being offered, for now, only in sizes 6, 7 and 8 and cannot be re-sized. Ringly is taking discounted pre-orders at $145-$180, depending on the stone, and planning to ship rings in the fall. Retail prices will be $195 and $260. The company plans to eventually offer different designs, including styles suitable for men. (Men with a bold sense of style may like the currently available black onyx ring.)

comScore Report on Mobile Usage–Seniors Score!

comScore, which provides measurements of digital usage for marketers, is out with its U.S. Mobile App Report. Unsurprisingly, in a world of smart phones, tablets, and that ludicrous portmanteau “phablets,” time spent on mobile apps (as opposed to browser time) has jumped 52%. According to comScore’s statistics, this should not come as news to many seniors, who represent a sizable segment of mobile users.

For those not fully up on their geek, the distinction is: An “app” is a small program you need to download to your mobile device, as opposed to simply typing the name of a site into a web browser. While you can still use a browser on a mobile device, the advantage of downloading apps is that they’re written to run better and faster (“natively”) on mobile devices and may also offer functions beyond those found on their browser versions. In addition, certain location-based programs may only be available as mobile apps.

(Charts courtesy comScore. Click to make them larger.)

Granted, it's a little less impressive when you realize how many years are covered in each bracket.

Granted, it’s a little less impressive when you compare how many years are included in each bracket.

The top four apps for those under the age of 35 are: Facebook, Pandora Radio, Instagram, and YouTube (the last two are reversed for 25-34). Starting at age 35, Instagram loses its place in the top four to Facebook Messenger. After age 54, it drops out entirely, replaced by Solitaire, and, yes, we do find that depressing. Happily, the Scrabble-like Words with Friends also makes the list.

Yes, 55+, because you and your grandmother/grandchild have so much in common.

55+, because you and your grandmother/grandchild have so much in common.

The full report is available for free download; however, comScore requires a business (or presumably academic) email address. We’d like to require they learn how to capitalize.

Disposing–and possibly profiting from–Old Technology

While new technology can make the lives of seniors easier, old technology is just another piece of clutter. Unless it’s an Apple I, even the early birds at the garage sale won’t want it.

What can you do with it? has a smart article with some useful ideas for handling the problem, from re-selling to recycling. They also have some important cautions:

  • Like disposing old motor oil, be aware of local environmental laws regulating what must be done with old electronics.
  • Like destroying old credit cards, be certain no one can reconstruct what was on your device. You may need to hire a professional to help you with this.
Ya never know...

Ya never know…

One caution we’d like to add to their list, after the traumatic experiences of friends who lost their comic book collections to overly zealous parental purging. Sure, there’s always going to be somebody who’ll offer ten bucks to take that old junk off your hands, but never toss anything without first checking its value as a collectible. That Apple I we mentioned? It sold at auction for $671,000.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a story today about re-selling iPhones. If the original price of your phone was discounted due to a two-year contract, it may actually be possible to realize a profit over what you paid. If you buy a phone knowing that you’re eventually going to re-sell it, make sure you keep everything that came with the original packaging and don’t get the phone engraved.

Several commentators on the Times story suggested that a good cost-saving strategy is to buy  your phone at a discount on a two-year contract, then keep the phone when the contract is up and switch to a lower cost or pay-as-you-go carrier.

Important note: If you plan to sell or trade-in your phone, check current reviews of whatever sites you’re seriously considering. The Times list cashforiphones among its suggestions, but CNet has a lengthy article warning against them, with excellent advice on what questions to ask about trade-ins. Consumer Reports has a list of trust-worthy stores and sites. In addition, you might want to consider eBay and Apple itself, which will send you a gift card.