Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An App By Boomers For Boomers: Eye Reader

At least one small company out there is creating apps that take Baby Boomer needs seriously and maybe the reason is this: the company is being run by a 1972 graduate of Texas Tech. If you do the math, you'll know that the engineer creating these apps, Gerry Lavender, is a Boomer himself. His muse and business partner is his wife, Carol.

In a recent interview, Carol told me that she and her friends came up with the idea for a line of “Silver Apps” that would address Boomer needs and then asked Gerry to implement the ideas. Gerry, who has been a computer consultant and programmer for years, works from his home in San Antonio, Texas and calls his company NetSoft. The first app from Gerry and Carol's collaboration is called EyeReader, an ingenious little program that costs $1.99 in the Apple App Store. Fair warning. The EyeReader app only works on the iPhone 4 right now.

The EyeReader app shines an LED light on a page and the phone's illuminated screen magnifies (up to 5 times) the print you want to read. It's perfect for small print on menus in dark restaurants, medicine bottles, footnotes etc. As one of the founders told another interviewer, “ you might forget your reading glasses, but you always have your phone with you.”

I don't have an iPhone 4, but three members of my family each have one, so I asked to borrow a phone to try out this app in person. I downloaded the app from the app store directly to the phone:

This is NetSoft's picture of this app at work:

And here is a picture my son took of the app looking at a yogurt label: Note that you can't get the whole label in one shot. You have to move the phone around to find the particular items you want to magnify and light up.
And here is another shot of a medicine label:
I tried out the app on a Playbill I received for a play I recently attended. I'm always frustrated when I attempt to read the small print in those things. All you have to do is open the app and aim the phone at the area you want to read. It’s pretty simple, although I have to admit it took me a little practice and patience to make this app work to my satisfaction. However, it was worth the effort. Once I figured out how to maneuver the iPhone and expand the magnification, I was able to clearly read what I wanted to read. The key: you need to take two fingers and spread the image on the phone's face to see maximum magnification.

I found myself wondering why the EyeReader wasn't available for the iPhone 3GS, and Carol explained that until the light was on the same side of the camera as the lens, the app couldn't combine both light and magnification. With the iPhone 4, and its two cameras, you have that combination. 

So what does the future hold for the Silver Apps? Right now, Gerry is porting the app to Android phones and a finished product should be available for those users soon. In addition, a magnify only version will be available for the iPhone 3GS. 

Also, the duo is cooking up some additional apps designed for our generation. Those of us who have diminished hearing, but don't quite need a hearing aid, probably will like an app NetSoft is creating that combines Bluetooth with the phone to amplify hearing. You'll put a Bluetooth bud in your ear, tap the app on the iPhone and the phone will amplify the sounds in the room for you.

Another upcoming app creates a password protected lock box for all your prescription information. No more showing up at the doctor's office without your list of medications. The list will be on your phone where you can't forget it. I know quite a few younger people that could use something like that too! Another app will make use of the GPS info on your phone to help you find your car in a parking lot.

I can't wait to see what they come up with next. And I'm happy to see Baby Boomers actually inventing the apps aimed at our generation.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

iPod Touch Mother's Day Ad Aims at Boomers' Children

I was blown away by Apple's iPod Touch advertisement for Mother's Day, which seems to me to be aimed at the children of the Boomer mom. I received this ad in an email today. The ad says:

Mom can see you anytime with FaceTime on iPod touch. She can make a FaceTime call to an iPhone 4, iPod touch, iPad 2, and Mac.* She'll also enjoy HD video recording, apps, and more. 

Apple, of course, is right. Who would want this item more than a mom with a kid in college or some grandkids in another state? And who are these people Apple is trying to reach? Baby Boomers, of course. The ad does neglect to remind buyers that they'll have to make sure there is Wi-Fi in mom's house or she won't be able to make that FaceTime call. But I digress.

Apple goes one step further and suggests some apps you might want to download for your mom. That way the iPod can be loaded with apps mothers can use from the start. They include "Yoga STRETCH" an app that has custom and preloaded yoga sessions complete with instructions and music; ShopKick for the shopper mom, an app that offers deals and rewards at major retailers; Instagram which will let mom turn her pictures into "works of art"; and then for baker mom: Martha Stewart Makes Cookies. The ad also suggests Books, so mom can read on her iPod Touch.

While Apple seems to be addressing the Boomer audience with this ad, the way the company is doing it seems a bit condescending to me. This app is aimed at young people or young adults and wants them to give this device as a gift to their mothers. To my knowledge, Apple has never addressed the Baby Boomer woman directly with an ad that says here is the iPod Touch and this is why you might like it. Boomer women have buying power too! I'm sure this is just one opinion about this ad; you may have your own.

I haven't written much about the iPod Touch in this column, basically because I don't own one. I opted for the iPhone which includes a phone as well as all of the iPod Touch functions. Now my iPhone is becoming outdated and I find that some of the apps I want aren't available for it. In particular one app I’ll be reviewing next doesn’t work on the 3GS. I had to borrow a phone from a family member to see how it works! And I asked my son to take pictures of the app on his iPhone 4.  I'll upgrade when the new iPhone 5 comes out, which is now rumored to be in September. However, for many of you, an iPod Touch would be a less expensive alternative to an iPhone, while still giving you access to all the newer apps you can enjoy.

I know that when I have a computer problem, I turn to a younger member of my family to help me out. Computers, especially PCs, are still complicated beasts that sometimes need an expert's attention. Perhaps we Boomers are more used to being introduced to technology by young people. Yet Apple has made a product that is so simple and intuitive to use that most people can pick it up and use it without needing an instruction manual...even Baby Boomers. After all, Steve Jobs is a Baby Boomer. I think this company can try talking directly to us, before they talk to our children.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why I'm on Facebook, Revisited

With all of the privacy issues that Facebook presents, you may wonder "why bother?" Most Baby Boomers I know do very well with email. They email their pictures and their grandkids' pictures to their brothers and sisters. Maybe they remember that Aunt Sadie might like to see them too and that she has an email address. Most people I know these days don't get around to printing out their pictures and putting them in an envelope to mail, so anyone who isn't "on the computer" is left out of the loop.

Here is a real life example of how Facebook is better than emailing pictures. This week I went on Facebook and checked my friends' status updates. I found that my cousin had posted an album of pictures from his daughter's junior prom. I've kept up with this family pretty well, but really, the time had flown and I had no idea that his daughter was ready for the junior prom! It was great to see the pictures of how this little girl had grown up! It was even better to share her father's mixed emotions about seeing her in her prom dress with her date. Facebook had reconnected me to this part of my family in a way that an email never could. It would have been too much trouble for my cousin to remember to email me.

Facebook was also convenient for my cousin. He was able to upload his pictures once, for all of his friends and family to see. They can comment on those pictures and all the comments are in one place. He doesn't have to remember to post multiple emails.

I also learned that another cousin who lives far away from me was ill. She probably wouldn't have told me in an email, but she broadcast the news to her friends on Facebook so they wouldn't worry if she wasn't online as often as she normally is. I have many things I can do with this information: ignore it, comment on Facebook that I hope she gets better, give her a call if I don't see her online for a long time, or email her. But at least I know.

With Facebook, you can stay in the lives of the people you care about, without losing touch. Maybe a phone call is a little too much. But you can look at what people post, pick and choose what to reply to and know something about their day-to-day lives.  When you actually see them, you have more to talk about because you know what's going on. I mean, what do you say to young members of your family that you haven't seen for a year? Do you fall back on the standard "relative" questions like "How's school?" and "What grade are you in now?" Isn't it much better to be able to ask how that class trip to Disney went or if they enjoyed working on the science project they posted about?

I think Boomers who say they can't be bothered with Facebook are not seeing Facebook as a tool that can enhance their lives. You don't have to invite strangers into your world unless you want to. The privacy settings let you keep your close knit group, close knit. Many boomers probably think they will be "poked" and prodded by people they don't want to know or see. Maybe you really don't want to reconnect with that high school friend who got you in so much trouble. You really don't have to.

On Facebook, you can ignore anyone you don't want to let into your circle. You can "unfriend" people who become annoying or worse, but "unfriending" is a last resort. If you need to make your Facebook experience more pleasant, consider just hiding the posts of people who write crazy status updates. One of my unnamed relatives is young, curses quite a bit and says unsavory things on Facebook. I just hide his posts. When I want to know what he is up to, I go look on his "wall."

For a short course on how to "unfriend" someone on Facebook I suggest you visit this blog post on ROM Cartridge: How to Remove Friends on Facebook or this Brighthub article: Unfriend Someone on Facebook without All the Drama.

A recent NY Times Blog post by Elissa Gootman gave this additional advice taken from Baby Boomers and others interviewed for the article:

  • Don’t friend somebody you don’t know.
  • Don’t announce on Facebook that you are leaving home, or you may get robbed.
  • Only write about the barbecue you’re planning if you want 1,000 people to show up.
  • Don’t “poke” people — it’s annoying.
  • If you’re 54 years old, don’t post a profile picture taken when you were 17.
  • “Remember, there’s malicious people out there.”
I'd add: if you want to keep your privacy, don't "like" a lot of companies or causes. Also beware of spam on Facebook. Mashable recently posted this article on the subject:  HOW TO: Avoid and Prevent Facebook Spam.

Although there are dangers, I think that Facebook is worth it and  I suggest you give it a try. "Friend" people you care about, post a status report that says something about what you are doing, and see how it enriches your life.