Will ageing workforce start to lose its touch?
A researcher at the University of Strathclyde‘s [Scotland] Computer and Information Sciences department is to examine the impact of ageing on smartphone usage. As the workforce becomes older (as the UK workers are encouraged to work later in life) people’s ability to use touchscreen mobile technologies – including smartphones will become increasingly important. Hence, Dr Mark Dunlop will examine the effect of age-related difficulties in texting and emailing on smartphones.
“It’s estimated around 25 per cent of emails are now opened on mobiles and as the older working population rises – due to both ageing population demographics and increasing retirement age – more workers will need to keep using their mobile technologies for work into their mid-to-late 60s,” Dr Dunlop explained.
He beleives that many people will want to continue professional, social and lifestyle usage into their late retirement, as the technologies can support increased community involvement and personal independence.
“Given increasing retirement ages and increasing use of smartphones for both work and social life, this research could have a major impact on personal wellbeing and the UK economy,” Dunlop added.
Upcoming EU legislation is likely to require services that are seen as critical for the citizen to participate in society to be accessible to disabled and older people.
The charity, Age UK (formerly Age Concern), states this is likely to cover information and communication technologies, including mobile phones.
Most mobile technologies now rely on touchscreen keyboards for popular functions such as email, social networking, texting and web or map searches.
Dr Dunlop explained how the ageing process – associated with a decline in hearing, sight, working memory, selective attention and motor control – can interfere with people’s ability to use mobile technology.
“Whilst there have been numerous studies into text entry usage on touchscreens, there has been very little work studying the effects of ageing on text entry,” Dunlop argues.
He claims there has been no work done on modern touchscreen phones where reduced visual acuity, reduced motor control and reduced working memory are all likely to have an impact.
At the moment, the mobile industry is focussed on targeting the current main market of younger users.
Dr Dunlop’s initial studies have also shown that older users may be willing to adopt new keyboard layouts and technologies more than younger users, who have different experiences with the QWERTY layout.
As part of Dr Dunlop’s two-year investigation he will also look at how text entry for older people is affected by the design features of most modern mobile technologies, – such as soft keys that are glossy, require almost no force to activate and have no visible gap between them.
The project could also provide insights into systems to support tremor problems associated with Parkinson’s disease, or for highly-visible keyboards for visually-impaired people.