Startup offers elderly an Internet key to family links

Jul 27, 2014 by Isabelle Wesselingh

Two grandmothers mystified by computer tablets have inspired a French-Romanian startup to develop an application and service to help the elderly stay in touch with their relatives through the Internet.

The system—the work of a startup called Hubert—began operating in the United States and in Europe on crowd-funding website Indiegogo this month.

"Everything started after one of my grandmothers died in a home for dependent seniors in France," Stephane Lucon, a Frenchman who co-founded Hubert, told AFP.

"I was living with my wife and children 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) away from her, in Romania. I went to visit her whenever I could but I would have liked her to be able to see her grandchildren every day via Skype or any video conference application."

But like many octogenarians or older, his grandmother did not know how to use a tablet or a PC.

A Pew Research Center report published in April showed that US senior citizens are lagging behind the overall population in online usage.

Only 37 percent of those over 80 go online, compared with 86 percent of the overall US population who use the Internet. The picture is similar in Europe.

Around the world, populations are ageing quickly. The number of over 80s will have almost quadrupled between 2000 and 2050 to 395 million, according to the UN World Health Organization.

Many seniors understandably have difficulty with digital communications, having spent most of their lives in the pre-Internet era.

Granny becomes app tester

After the death of one of his grandmothers, Lucon was determined to help the other one benefit from video link-ups.

"I realised that many elderly people are intimidated by the big number of applications on the tablet screen," he says.

From his house in the Romanian countryside, he worked for months on a new screen launcher with the help of a UK-based Romanian IT designer, Petre Nicolescu.

His 87-year-old grandmother was consulted on every step and asked for her opinion.

"I wanted to build a new interface so that she could see only one or two buttons on her screen with the application she uses: Skype, games," he said.

The result is a simplified screen on which all unused applications are hidden.

But as tablets can still puzzle new users, Lucon and his team created a support service that can take remote control of the device to fix problems or install new apps.

"Retailers usually consider that the family is here to help the seniors with the device but relatives often do not have the knowledge or the time to do it," Lucon said.

By pressing a help button on their screen, users will be connected vocally to a real person for help.

The support line will be accessible for a basic monthly subscription of $20 (15 euros).

Maintain social contact

Last year, US retail giant Amazon added a "Mayday" alarm button to its Kindle tablets for live technical support.

"A major difference with Amazon Mayday is that our interface can be used on any Android tablet," Lucon said.

Initiatives like Mayday or Hubert "help as they give a human face which is more important for the older generation than the younger one who is comfortable Googling questions," Carolina Milanesi, chief of Research of KANTAR Worldpanel Comtech Cell, told AFP.

Hubert has chosen to base its research and development in France.

The call centre will be based in Romania, which has become a European hub for IT support.

"Helping seniors to connect is not only an economic issue, it's first and foremost a social issue as technologies can help less mobile people to maintain social connections," Thomas Husson, an analyst at international IT survey group Forrester Research, told AFP.

Explore further: US seniors see slow migration to tech, study says

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Amazon could shake up sector with smartphone

Jun 17, 2014

Amazon's mystery unveiling Wednesday is widely expected to be a smartphone, which if managed well could shake up the market and boost the US online giant as a device maker.

Review: Amazon phone unlikely to catch Fire

Jun 21, 2014

In announcing Fire, its first-ever smartphone, Amazon showed off some sparks of innovation. There are two standout features in particular: a service called Firefly that can identify everything from a song ...

Android grabs more tablet market share

Jul 23, 2014

Global sales of tablet computers edged higher in the second quarter, in the slowest growth since 2009, research firm Strategy Analytics said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Review: Better cameras, less glare in iPad Air 2

2 hours ago

If I've seen you taking photos with a tablet computer, I've probably made fun of you (though maybe not to your face, depending on how big you are). I'm old school: I much prefer looking through the viewfinder ...

Samsung phones cleared for US government use

Oct 21, 2014

Samsung Electronics Co. said Tuesday some of its Galaxy mobile devices were approved by the National Security Agency for use with classified U.S. government networks and data, a boost to the company's efforts to expand in ...

Review: Apple Pay in action

Oct 21, 2014

If there ever comes a day I can ditch my wallet and use my phone to pay for everything, I'll look back to my first purchase through Apple Pay: a Big Mac and medium fries for $5.44. That wallet-free day won't ...

Samsung seeks boost from redesigned Note

Oct 21, 2014

The latest version of Samsung's popular big-screen Galaxy Note has gone on sale at a crucial time for the South Korean company as it suffers a rapid decline in profit from its global smartphone business.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

pandora4real
5 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2014
Thousands of unemployed Nigerian Scam letter writers are cheering wildly! New courses on the curriculum in Romania.

Seriously, who would want the liability??? Just think how serious you could alarm a total 'net-ignorant and how serious that could be. I wouldn't be surprised if the Romanian woman had the idea after watching her grandson making money off of "repost this" statuses on Facebook.