Getting a seniors’ phone made (maybe in Canada)?
August 5, 2022 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Basically, our family needs a senior’s phone with certain specs. We want one for us but also recognize a potential opportunity (or think we do). What’s the best way to get this made?

Taking on the cost and risk of manufacturing seems like a bad idea. Probably better for eg Samsung or someone to do it. If we wanted to convince eg Samsung to make this thing, what would be the best way to do it?

(I know there are major issues with supply chains and computer chips right now anyway, so would we maybe want to have a Canadian company do this?)

No problem researching competitors and doing user research, but from there? I do know that there’s nothing patentable about anything we’d come up with, so is there a way of getting the attention of a company who could make this and pay us for the plan?
posted by cotton dress sock to Technology (18 answers total)
Gently, you can't, and you shouldn't put any effort into it. This won't happen.
posted by bowbeacon at 12:10 PM on August 5 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Does it help if one person is an electrical engineer and has a background in quality control? (That is the case)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:18 PM on August 5

Frankly, no. Not if you're asking this question. If you're not currently on the ground in Shenzhen looking for chips and antennas, you are miles over your head and have no chance of ever making this happen.
posted by bowbeacon at 12:20 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

I'm with bowbeacon. It's not gonna happen.

You could instead tell us what it is you hope to have in a phone and we can perhaps tell you if something similar that exists.
posted by dobbs at 12:21 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh I know for a fact it doesn’t. Currently anyway.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:21 PM on August 5

What are you looking for, OP? Custom manufacturing a phone is 100% not going to happen, so you may as well let us know what you’re looking for so we can help brainstorm how you can get it.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:24 PM on August 5

Any useful inspiration here? This Rotary Cell Phone Actually Works. Upshot is, the inventor made kits available.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:25 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok not to spend too much time in the thread, but sure, dobbs and a box…, if you can find this let me know:

- flip phone

- minimum 4g (not just LTE)

- *excellent* sound quality

- loud ringtone

- “hidden” volume buttons (not just not on the sides so they can be accidentally pressed anytime; set on the handset itself and depressed, so that only family members with a specific tool can set the volume)

- extremely simple interface, almost no apps

- call block feature, accessible to family remotely

- GPS capability, accessible remotely (not essential for us because we already have a GPS solution, but would be for others)

- no additional buttons (eg “push to talk”) or features.

- no touchscreen

- buttons are not shitty and are the right size. Not too small, not too big

- excellent battery life

- priced affordably.

For a start.

Kyocera made a somewhat similar phone a few years ago, nothing since. Sonim’s offering doesn’t work for various reasons. Nokia has a candy bar phone with crap sound that has had quality issues. There are a bunch of crappy phones with terrible sound at low price points with various other stupidities (eg, the central button being a massive, red BLOCK button). Punkt is expensive and has too modern a design. Doro, loads of others don’t have at least one of the features we need
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:40 PM on August 5

Response by poster: >Not if you're asking this question.

Well, to be fair, it’s me and not the engineer asking this question.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:46 PM on August 5

Best answer: a couple of options:
1. Kickstarter - put up the specs and glittery marketing photos, then once you get the funds, contract it out to somebody.
2. The Instant Pot people - this was a Canadian engineer who had a good idea and turned it into a product and now an empire. If you can convince them with a good idea, they can turn it into a product.
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:48 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

If we wanted to convince eg Samsung to make this thing, what would be the best way to do it?

Two different ways this could be done:

1. The person who is an electrical engineer can get a job with a cell phone manufacturer in a division that works on developing new products.

2. Become famous enough that you will be sought out by cell phone manufacturers for advertising deals, tell them you will do it but require this custom phone.

Alternatively, the electrical engineer can mod or build from scratch a phone with the desired specs, a la

priced affordably

As the old saying goes "good fast cheap pick two" -- you don't mention a time frame, so cheap can be possible. Look around for deals on used phones meeting some of the requirements. Buttons and volume controls can be removed, covered with a small panel to prevent being pressed, etc.
posted by yohko at 1:48 PM on August 5

The youtube algorithm suggested this video to me the other day. I would think that if it were that easy to get both the hardware and software "right"... it would have been done already.

Hypothetically speaking, of course, I wonder if it would be easier to mod the hardware/ software of an existing phone rather than starting from scratch.
posted by oceano at 1:49 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

If you do end up developing a new product out of this, I urge you to think about how it can incorporate a speech to text feature. Deafness is very common in older adults, and if someone is deaf enough "just scream louder" doesn't actually help.
posted by yohko at 1:52 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Making software is hard, but making production hardware is exponentially harder. I used to work at HTC.

As a more realistic path, if you can handle a touch screen, you could instead develop an Android app that replaces the home screen and locks everything down and makes it super simple to use. JitterBug Smart 3 is a product that uses this strategy (reselling some cheap existing Android hardware). On the other end of the spectrum, is one guy's attempt at doing just the software, and it runs on any android phone. There are other similar apps out there.

Perhaps the cheapest route is to find an app that's close to what you desire, then contact the developer and work with them to enhance the app based on your suggestions.
posted by Diddly at 5:38 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]

A big issue here is that you have a lot of "must haves" that are specific to your needs. Other seniors and their families are going to have different specific needs that conflict with yours. For instance, making volume buttons inaccessible is important to you, but another family might feel it's important to make those accessible. You're overestimating the universality of your desires. There are a lot of "senior phones" out there, and they're going to cater to the broadest market with features that are widely popular. Your "must haves" must not be very popular or the market would likely provide them already, which means your product would be more niche (and less profitable) than you expect.
posted by rikschell at 8:00 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]

Like Diddly says, you can probably apply a corporate profile to a cheap Android handset for the call blocking whitelist and GPS tracking aspects.

Integration with a hearing aid for the hard of hearing is probably also possible.
posted by k3ninho at 12:34 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]

I actually met a person that was involved with making an unusual custom phone once. Cyrcle Phone. Reading over how their project has gone might give you an idea of how going about that works? I will note it's pretty expensive, as a phone, but that might be due to certain unusual form goals it has.
posted by foxfirefey at 7:18 AM on August 9

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