Touch screens don’t work for everyone

I’ve been volunteering with AgeUK to help elderly people with digital devices.

One interesting experience I had recently was helping Edna (not her real name), an 88 year old woman with an android tablet. She wanted to use it to check answers to the weekly Crossword puzzles, use Skype for connecting with friends overseas and do a bit of online shopping.

As I walked her through different tasks on her tablet, I noticed she was having a lot of difficulty with pressing on buttons, links and swiping through screens. I asked her to try using different fingers and to press down with the flat of her finger and not her finger nail but none of these seemed to help. She started getting frustrated with it and saying it was her fault and that she “didn’t know how to use the thing.” I assured her she wasn’t doing anything wrong and would look into it further.

I was puzzled why the tablet wasn’t responding to her fingers. After the session, I did some research and found that a lot of elderly people were experiencing similar problems and it had to do with moisture.

First, a bit of background on touch screens. Almost all devices with touch screens these days, from phones to tablets, use “capacitive touch screens”. These work by sensing where our fingers touch the screen using the electrical charge our skin carries. Think of the static shocks you get when touching a door handle. And the electrical charge is greatest when our hands are warm and moist.

In older people, dry skin and cold hands are common:

As skin ages, the skin has a decreased ability to retain moisture, to control temperature and to sense the surrounding environment. Environmental factors, such as exposure to UV radiation, also have a detrimental effect on skin health over time. (bpac)

The puzzle was coming together. This explained why Edna’s tablet wasn’t responding to her fingers and why she was having such difficulty with it. Her fingers were dried out so the tablet wasn’t picking up an electrical current from her skin. It was like she wearing gloves and trying to use her phone.

It was a really interesting accessibility problem and something I didn’t even think about until I observed it. It’s yet more evidence why first hand research and observations are so important. Being there in person is absolutely necessary to uncover the underlying problems with how people are using devices and empathise with their needs.

The solution I advised was to buy a basic stylus and use that instead of her fingers. Another remedy would be to use a water based moisturiser but that doesn’t help if her hands are cold as well as dry.

And it’s not just elderly people who may experience problems with touch screens, there are many others who could be affected:

  • People with poor circulation can have cold hands
  • Healthcare workers who wash their hands a lot leading to dry hands
  • People with diabetes or blood conditions may have cold hands
  • Carpenters who have callused hands
  • Guitar players who have callused fingers
  • People with low levels of iron with anemia may have cold hands1
  • Raynaud’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis causes cold hands1
  • A thyroid imbalance can cause cold hands and dry skin2

 

References:

  • Featured image: Timothy Muza https://stocksnap.io/photo/1942FD49BF
  • 1 https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/heart-disease-2/medical-cold-hands-feet/
  • 2 http://bottomlinehealth.com/your-hormones-may-be-out-of-whack-and-you-dont-even-know-it-men-this-can-happen-to-you-too/
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Perfect experience of IKEA’s book technology

“Once in a while, something comes along that changes the way we live, a device so simple and intuitive, using it feels almost familiar,” says Jorgen Eghammer, the chief design guru of the latest IKEA book technology.

The experience of IKEA’s newest innovation is second to none. Its simple and intuitive interface is the best out on the street using cutting edge technology that feels refined to perfection over hundreds of years.

Features

  • Battery life is eternal
  • Navigation is based on tactile touch technology that you can actually feel
  • To start browsing, simply touch and drag
  • No lag, it’s crystal clear page loads instantaneously no matter how fast you scroll
  • Using just your thumb, speed browse through the content
  • If you find something you want to save for later, simply bookmark it. And even if you close the application you can easily find the bookmark again

“Experience the power of a bookbook™”

Jamba Juices’ fast and simple rewards program signup

When I was visiting my parents in San Francisco last month, I was impressed by the signup process for Jamba Juices’ rewards program. It is by far the simplest and fastest rewards “card” I’ve ever signed for.

Let me rewind for a minute and first describe my qualms with rewards cards.

Problems with rewards cards

1. Rewards cards are painful to signup for

Carrying around the cards themselves is painful as they bulk up my wallet, the magnetic strip wears out (especially for the Shell drivers club card) but those pale in comparison to remembering to signup for the card when I get home. The last thing that pops into my head is “I need to complete my rewards card application.” Even if I do remember, the signup process is often so long that I avoid doing it.

2. It’s easy to forget cards

Forgetting my card is similarly annoying to forgetting to signup for it in the first place. Except, now I’ve got past the first hurdle of signing up and more annoyed that I didn’t bring the bloody thing with me. There’s not much the shop will do except to remind me to keep my receipt and bring it in next time, which I often get at Boots. That’s very unlikely to happen…

3. I have too many cards

When I do remember to add my card to the ever growing collection in my wallet, I’m often faced with being given even more cards. A good example of this at at Sainsburys with my Nectar card. They give me “temporary cards” in the form of paper vouchers which I need to bring with me the next time I shop. Not only is that annoying for me when I forget to bring a £5.27 off my next shop voucher but it’s also very wasteful. I throw away 90% of the paper vouchers I’m given by Sainsburys. Why not digitise these? Then I won’t have to carry the bulk in my wallet or risk forgetting them!

So, that brings me back to Jamba Juice.

Jamba Juices’ Fast and Simple Rewards “Card”

Jamba juice solved all these problems by digitising their rewards card. It’s an amazingly simple process:

  1. Enter your phone number in the shop
  2. Activate your account online
  3. Get $3 off your next smoothie and earn points going forward

Jamba Juice rewards signup

I was surprised at how fast this was to do, I was expecting another physical card I needed to carry around and activate when I got home. There is an activation step but I’m motivated to complete it because I get $3 off your next smoothie.

With a fast and simple system, there are always tradeoffs and risks:

  1. Remembering you phone number – with smartphones, there’s no need to memorise your phone number anymore
  2. Errors and Typos – what if you accidentally mistype and use someone else’s phone number? There’s no way of knowing
  3. Hassle of changing numbers – if you switch your phone number, you need to remember to call customer support and move your account

The tradeoffs could definitely happen and should be accounted for in the design but for me, the simplicity and usability of Jamba’s rewards system outweighs the risks. I’ve signed up and will use it every time I’m back in California enjoying my favourite smoothie, The Orange Berry Blitz.