Chinese elderly slowly adapt to elderly-friendly apps

SHANGHAI — Zheng Peijuan doesn’t like shopping online. When the pandemic restricted her movements last year, she instead asked her daughter to help deliver food to her doorstep.

“All of these apps have small fonts,” the 65-year-old from Shanghai told Sixth Tone. “They look very complicated and confusing.”

Zheng is part of the country’s growing aging population that is struggling to adapt to ever-changing technology, so much so that authorities in China have asked tech companies to help older people better integrate digitally by last December. Companies were asked to offer larger fonts, easy-to-use interfaces and dialect recognition to meet the needs of senior users.

A year later, 43 mobile apps and 115 websites – including messaging app WeChat, short-video platform Douyin and e-commerce site Taobao – have mostly complied with the government’s directive to provide versions suitable for seniors. But not all problems have been solved.

A comment on Banyuetan, a media outlet by state-run Xinhua news agency, noted that although many apps have launched an “elderly version” with a simplified interface, some settings are “for show”. For example, many applications have changed the main interface of their landing pages, but have not adjusted the secondary pages accordingly.

“At present, some of them remain superficial, mainly because the companies involved are struggling to profit from them, and some companies lack motivation,” the comment said, adding that many applications still lacked recognition. multi-dialect voice.

Chen Lan, an expert with the Shenzhen-based Accessibility Research Association, told Sixth Tone that while the government directive recognizes the previously overlooked issues that many older mobile users face, companies need to do more. to help population growth. In June, almost 30% of the country’s more than one billion Internet users were over 50 years old.

“Given the decline in concentration and memory, interface icons should have explanations for older users,” she said, adding that apps should also consider their tactile and cognitive needs. , as well as improved voice recognition features.

“In areas where local dialects are widely spoken in daily life, improving the interface’s capability for dialect speech recognition is a benefit for all residents,” Chen added. “Companies could also consider adding ethnic minority languages ​​to their speech recognition technologies.”

E-commerce giant Alibaba offers large text and icons on its senior version of the Alipay app.

As a result of ongoing discussions, some companies have launched separate apps for the Silver generation instead of modifying their current version.

Earlier this year, tech giant Baidu launched its entertainment and lifestyle-focused Big Character app for seniors with a simple interface and large text. The app adjusts colors and sounds to suit their needs and has a feature that transcribes content such as radio shows and novels into the voices of their loved ones.

“At that time, we thought, how would old people feel if we could let their grandchildren record a paragraph, generating a voice package that read them the news every day?” Xia Wei, head of Baidu’s Big Character app, said at the China Aging Industry Business Innovation Conference hosted by consulting firm AgeClub on Tuesday. “We hope to define our product from a psychological point of view and give seniors peace of mind and more companionship.”

However, Chen said many apps aimed at seniors have failed to appeal to their target demographic. In their research, Chen and his team found that many elderly residents were unaware that such apps even existed.

“They may have heard that the government is pushing for digital transformation for the elderly population, but they may not be aware of the progress and versions developed for them,” Chen said.

Zheng, the Shanghai retiree, agreed, saying she didn’t know about the apps until her daughter upgraded the food delivery app Ele.me to the age-friendly version a few months ago. Although she still doesn’t like them, she is gradually getting used to the apps.

“The fonts are so much bigger and the main function buttons are very clear,” Zheng said as he tapped on his phone screen. “Now I know exactly where to click for food delivery and groceries.”

Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Visual ME/people)

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