Tech for Technophobes

My mother-in-law is a very smart woman, but she’s a bit behind the curve when it comes to modern electronics. That’s fine – she’s not anti-technology, or anything. But even for her generation she’s missing out on a few elements of the gadget landscape that might actually help her out in a variety of ways. Sometimes she has trouble managing a multi-remote setup for her TV and cable box, so my wife, her sister, and I have been hesitant to steer her toward anything too advanced. After failing to embrace a car GPS that she bought for herself, we figured something like a smartphone was out of the picture. Then she lost her camera.

Long ago, Valerie and I pitched in with her sister to buy a digital camera for their mom. This was already a huge leap, at least 8 years ago. We showed her how to switch from taking photos to viewing them right there on the camera, and how to get everything from the camera to her iMac. For years, we figured that’s how she’d been using the camera.

In reality, my mother-in-law eventually stopped transferring photos to her computer and ended up steadily filling the memory card with years’ worth of memories. We still hope to find it, but if the camera is truly lost, so are about 5 years of photos. Coincidentally, my mother-in-law had been telling Valerie that she felt like it was time to replace her phone as Valerie struggled to navigate and configure the Byzantine voicemail system of a clamshell phone.

The gears started turning in my head, and I’m thinking it’s finally time for my mother-in-law to get a smartphone. An iPhone, specifically, since it’ll be easier for her family to support. This way she still gets her phone with easier-to-use voicemail, AND, she’ll get her biggest camera upgrade since 2006. I also think if I set things up the right way, she’ll have to worry a lot less about losing her device and all of its photos. So here’s how I think this could work:

  1. Have her get an iPhone 6, 64 GB. I don’t anticipate her being a huge app/music/movie user, so most of the free space after the OS and base apps will be available for local photo/video storage. I’m suggesting the 6 because autofocus is ripping fast compared to all prior iPhones. And since she always uses the flash on auto, at least it has that kinda-less-hideous dual LED flash.
  2. Get one of those obnoxious Otterbox cases. They all look fugly, but this way we all worry less about her dropping it or putting it in her purse.
  3. Start out by moving EVERY APP except the phone to a different home screen, inside a folder. Keep the phone in the dock so it’s always visible even if she accidentally swipes to another home screen page.
  4. Start out really slow. Just get her used to using the phone and voicemail, and adjusting to a touchscreen. Turn off all notifications, location services, etc. Use restrictions to lockdown the App Store and iTunes. Otherwise, no passcode or TouchID yet. She won’t really have sensitive stuff on there anyway that wasn’t freely accessible on her clamshell to begin with.
  5. Once she’s used to the smartphone at a basic level, move the camera and Photos apps to the dock as well. She could look at the photos in the camera app, but it’d be easier for her to have a single tap from the home screen if she just wants to view photos.
  6. iCloud photo storage has dramatically improved, but for simplicity here, I’d put the Flickr app on her phone, set up a free account, and turn on the auto-sync option in the Flickr app. By default, all uploads are private, and this way she has a free terabyte of storage for her photos. Whenever she fills up the phone, we can wipe out the pictures to make room without worrying.

Over time we could slowly introduce some additional apps as well, like the calendar, or weather, but only as she gained confidence. It all sounds a little paternalistic, but if you know my mother-in-law (or similar luddites), this is about protection AND minimizing the kind of tech frustration that leads to tech rejection. I want her to have an easy time keeping in touch with her family and the ability to take good photos of her grandchild (and whatever else) without worrying about losing it all.

Thoughts? Is this overwrought? Anybody out there have personal success stories about introducing new gadgets to technophobe friends or family?

UPDATE: My pal Sam recommended a modified approach: just start with phone, camera, and photos in the dock. Leave harmless but maybe useful things on the homescreen (like notes, calendar, etc.). Put everything else in a folder on another screen. No need to lock down app/music stores. After teaching her how to use the phone and camera, just let her know she can play with whatever she sees if she wants without worry. We’ll see…I like these ideas, but I also fear that me and my friends take a LOT for granted when it comes to gadgets. So I tend to be overcautious.