With profound regret I have subjected my own mother to a dismal digital life of Android (the Samsung Fascinate, specifically, still running Android 2) in a failed bid to give her something better than Windows Mobile with which she never became comfortable. It has proved to be a step backwards from WinMo, actually.

To characterize that my heart is good here, I even got her a 212 area code cell phone number (virtually impossible, the most coveted area code in the world) which she loves as a status symbol, but because she just can’t figure out the stupid phone, after years of having that number she still hasn’t even memorized it because she just doesn’t use the phone, other than the occasional attempt to sign into Yahoo Finance which doesn’t work because she had waited too long and the password timed out from the previous month during which she last tried, because she is incapable of figuring it out in between my lessons with her. 

My mom is not young anymore. She has zero technological intuition, zero. Compounding that stacked deck, she is growing increasingly forgetful, so my trying whenever I see her to instill muscle memory of what to tap to compose a new document, crop a photo or even just to google something, she forgets, and when I teach her again, because she gets nervous, writing down each thing I teach her as we repeat each little thing several times does not work. You likely have someone in your life akin to her in these respects, I needn’t elaborate much further. I believe they call this learned helplessness. It was I who taught her that helplessness, but that I am able to identify my mistake, to resolve and seek help to rectify it and to see that as both exigent and imperative, versus just blaming my mom’s ineptitude, is a good sign for her sake, is it not.

So I want to get her a new phone. Not Android is the first requirement; Android, also Samsung and phone-related-Google, have no hope of redeeming themselves to her. If I bought one she’d tell me to return the phone immediately but appreciates the gesture and loves her son. Parenthetically, can’t you see already that I love my mother more than Google, and if so, would you please switch from calling me a fanboy to calling me a momma’s boy? The latter, at this point in my life, would be less hurtful.

Due to my failures to get her comfortable with any device or software, or select the technology most suitable for her, I have essentially relegated her to a self-defeating presumption that acclimating to the most basic levels of everyday technology may simply be out of reach for her. Were you to ask my mom what Chrome or a bookmark is, that would be like asking someone to explain in one sentence what time is.

My mom’s phone needs in a steep downward slope of importance, a short list, are as follows: email, checking her stock portfolio, pictures (taking, viewing, cropping and sharing them), Youtube, listening to music, placing calls and finally receiving calls. The actual phone function of the phone barely makes the list, though if it became feasible to teach her, video conferencing with her little grand daughter either over Skype, Google or Facetime, terrific, but not important. If I tell her her new phone can do more than those things, she will react with trepidation that it is too complicated to even turn on and that there is no hope.

I’ve got two candidates in mind — the next iPhone and the Nokia 1020, the one with the juiced-up camera as she is an avid photographer, most of her life, and her DSLR has grown challenging for her to use, to remember how to get the aperture adjustments prioritized or something as basic as popping up the flash, let alone manipulate the functionality of the external flash I bought her, let alone modify the ISO settings and such, let alone lug the camera bag around — a phone with as good a camera as possible would be helpful. It would be easier to have my mom go back to using her old Nikkromat camera and developing film in a darkroom than using the Samsung Captivate for very mediocre photos. I didn’t even bother trying to teach her its camera app, too obvious a waste of time.

So that’s a big selling point for the Nokia in this decision I’m trying to make, that I can tell her it has the best camera, even better than that of the iPhone, that offers the brightest possibility that she can ditch her DSLR and start taking pictures with her phone were she to go with the Nokia. Also helpful is the interface that is most welcoming to someone who’s basically starting from scratch in terms of being introduced to technology. I am not sure whether Windows Phone or the latest iOS fits that bill. I haven’t touched a Windows Phone since its infancy, things have since changed, I’ve heard the new iOS has its share of detractors.

The biggest selling point to the iPhone that I see is that she knows that all of her friends, with exception to one Blackberry holdout, women of her digital cloth, her bridge partners, they all have iPhones and they know how to email, to check their stocks and to take pictures. They’re proud of their phones and show them off. So I suspect my mom would be primed to like the iPhone and most inclined to turn it on for the first time with a mindset most conducive to diving in, tap icons and figure the thing out. She’s never heard of Windows Phone, surely has no friends with one.

So even though the 1020 from what I’ve read has the best camera (though the iPhone’s ain’t bad), and even though Windows Phone may or may not be better for someone like her than iOS, this predisposition I suspect she has to eagerly embrace an iPhone versus something, like Android when I got her that crap phone, he hadn’t ever heard of, is something not to underestimate. We may, here, all agree that for someone like her the Windows Phone/Nokia 1020 is obviously superior from software to hardware, but when I remind you that getting the thing all her friends have could outweigh that decisively, I might be right, don’t dismiss that. I’m not sure.

This may be my last chance not to screw this up. I love my mommy dearest and I want her to use that 212 number finally. Which phone would you recommend? I write way too long, I’m sorry about that, and thanks.

Doug Simmons

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  1. Hah, I’ve been in the a somewhat similar situation not too long ago.

    This is how I fixed it;
    Mommy now has a Lumia 720. With all the Nokia tools and BSI/widescreen/etc. camera it makes better pictures than anything (for a phone of course!) she’s ever seen before and I dare say, especially when low light is concerned, a little better than even an iPhone 5. Oh and it’s about a third of the price. The 1020 could work, sure. It’s bigger and much heavier however and for someone getting a little older that may not be pleasant. Considering that for their typical usage the only benefit is the camera. After looking at the simply amazing pictures coming from a 720… Well let’s just say, no other devices count anymore. The lower resolution on the 720 screen and the clear, simple brightness makes it easier to read too for those that get a little older.

    Daddy had an iPhone4s. Was OK with it. Here not many people have iPhones anyway, and without the social incentive an iPhone is not a very special device at all, it actually got a little annoying after a while (exchange bugs, small screen). But it needed an upgrade. After comparing devices for a little while his own choice became a Lumia 820 (due to cool live tiles and having more information easier accessible). At first a little confusing but after a while it’s proven to be a perfect match. The letters on the screen are bigger, easier to read. Navigation is smarter and simple. For someone with basically zero technical knowledge, it works surprisingly easy. The wireless charging is pretty useful too. People from their generation usually have a default place to put their phone when they are at home, putting a wireless charging plate in that spot makes it all a little cooler.

    Both are technically challenged so to speak, so Android was never an option. But where I can give them both a homescreen with all the tiles to all the features they’ll really want to use on a day to day situation, an iPhone becomes a mess of ancient ugly icons. They both have an easy time using Skype and other features too and they both eventually were so happy, they now both have a Win8 tablet.

    With iOS7 coming (which looks like a horribly beat up version of WP8) I wouldn’t be surprised if current (older) iPhone users would run into trouble with those devices.

    Point is, in the USA, iPhone is large, and social pressure strong. If that latter part is too strong to consider a Lumia, it would be a missed experience, but perhaps worth it, depending on how important her social position is to her.

    On top of that, for this target audience, that doens’t instagram all day to prove they have a life, the slightly lesser amount of apps is a non-issue. And if they do want to instagram, there’s always a good alternative for it.

    Perhaps I should add that I like the softer, more easily handled design of the Lumia series a lot more too and if a Lumia drops on the floor, it doesn’t shatter like an iPhone. Not a bad bonus.

  2. I’d love your mom to try the Nokia Lumia 1020. It has a bigger and arguably better screen, better camera and out of the box I think Windows Phone 8 requires far less apps and taps to suit her needs, than iOS. Pin big live tiles for mail, stock portfolio, Pictures, Youtube, Music and a select group of her favorite people on the Start screen and she’s good to go.

    Take pictures with the hardware camera button. Edit and share them, all with the Pictures Hub. Mail, Facebook, Skype, text and phone are all integrated in the (favorite) People Hub. Your mom probably prefers integration over navigation. And with Windows Phone 8 it’s less important to remember which app does what and where to find it.

    On the other hand, her friends can help her actually use a smartphone. And that is more important. So I’d recommend an iPhone.

  3. This is what I’m going to run into with my dad. He won’t switch from his flip phone. And he doesn’t need to. He has an hour drive to work so its turned on for that then he looses signal in the power plant he works in so the phone turns off until he leaves to come home. A battery will last him 2 weeks. Buy his phone will die, my whole family uses Lumia 920s. Even my mom who does pretty well with it. But my dads phone will die someday. And a windows phone would be perfect for him. I already know how to set up the home screen. Since you can now resize the tiles, I would give him a home screen of nothing but the largest tiles. One to make a phone call, one for his contacts, and one for messaging. Maybe if he’s up to it one for weather. But that’s it. A home screen with 3 large buttons. That’s all he wants. It seems like the best way to go for him. He doesn’t do touch screens and the little icons you find on the iPhone would become a hassle for him. Remember the jitterbug phone for old people? Really big buttons and colors and no nonsense? That’s basically what I would turn his windows phone into. And as time goes on I would introduce him to the ESPN app. And maybe some others. Well there’s my 2 cents at least. Good luck with momma!

  4. All very helpful fellas. The hardware button to take pictures, that didn’t even occur to me (I also forgot about the screen size, her eyes could use that help), and something like that could make the difference between her seeing the phone as having a legitimate camera, and that could make the difference of her finally having a phone she manages to figure out and want to use. But again, her friends..

    Perhaps I should take her to the local AT&T joint and let her have a taste test of the two, explaining some of these advantages, letting her decide if she wants what I’d argue is the better device for her, the Nokia, or the device vouched for by her friends which may be more important — unless she is somehow repelled by the WP interface. Perhaps my inviting her to compare and choose herself, rather than indulge me by letting me surprise her with and try to teach her the new thing I brought her, an event that has had only one instance of success (the Chromebook), will prime her to start using whichever one she picks.

  5. I got mom the 822 on Verizon and paid for her data for a year in advance at the argument from the rest of the family that it was to much for her. Infact she found the interface easier to use than her previous flip phone, she love the tiles and has not stop thanking me enough. Everyday she is learning something new,recently how to use her NFC so we can share those pictures.

  6. I think your Mom would (might) like the 1020, but as all her peers are toting iPhones that would probably be the safe bet. (Wait, did I just recommend an iPhone over a WP. Mark the date). It’s super easy to shoot, crop and upload photos with the 1020. Note that the Xbox Media Transfer app sucks. Not even close to the Zune app, which many didn’t think much of. But if all you are doing is syncing the photo & video folders, not much to interact with. Photos can also auto upload to AT&T Locker or SkyDrive. Those high-res images will only upload to Locker though.

    Mail is easy (at least for me), so very little learning curve there. The new Bing Finance app lets you pin stocks to the Start screen, which your Mom might like. There are other stock apps, but the Microsoft (or Nokia) stuff always works more reliably. Wireless charging might also be a selling point (no more trying to position that micro USB the right way) although you do need a wireless cover which snaps over the back over the 1020. Of course, Microsoft owns Skype, but the iPhone may have the better experience there, at least for now.

    A trip to the AT&T store (with a nice lunch afterwards) may warm her up to the 1020, but I wouldn’t force it on her. You already know how that would turn out. The iPhone 5 or 5S, might not be the best phone for her, but it would probably sit well in her comfort zone. Then again, the 1020 might get her excited. Your call.

    Btw, I tried typing this on my phone twice. And both times as I was finishing up my finger hit one of those stupid arrows on the screen, and the screen moved to the next article, erasing my post. Please fix it webmasters. Otherwise, my comments are going to be very brief. This is cutting in to my cocktail time.

  7. I’d prefer the iPhone anyday for my mom. The camera is the USP of the Lumia 1020 which I don’t think many women care for. The overall package of the iPhone is definitely much better.

  8. There are special non-smart phones for the elderly! They feature display with large digits and keyboards with large keys.

    It may be an option.

    • I have to say the biggest challenge for windows phone is the fact that people truly don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to the WP os for example, specifically with the camera being to much on the ten twenty that’s bull it is easier than using a dslr and its just a point and shoot if your not into the camera pro app on it which by the way will still take stellar pictures compared to the iPhone any day. Another example is the comment about phones for the elderly, on every windows phone there is an option in the setting called ease of access wich will not only allow you to magnify the screen but additionally has a high contrast and text size option. In short if the 928 had come out when I got my mother the 822 I would have sprung for it. I don’t know about you guys but I only want the best for my mother and I’m sorry but hands down the 1020 crushes the iPhone in every department except regrettably one apps which I’m sure will change over time. As if apps made a device what its supposed to be then clearly we would all own androids.

  9. Maybe your Mom just Loves being with you, and your lessons are a way of getting more time.
    That said, my wife loves her Nokia 820 and her Kindle Fire1. She can do them herself and barely needs my attention.
    I am sure your mother will appreciate whatever you choose…as long as your lessons come with it.

  10. > just Loves being with you, and your lessons are a way of getting more time.
    JRDemaskus, while I like how you think, in this case I strongly doubt your theory. When it’s lesson time, out of the gate she is on edge because I am irascible and a bit short fused, which she anticipates, because of how impossible it is to teach her when she’s on edge which puts her further on edge — one of those vicious cycle sort of things, and not pleasant for either of us. The result is often that nothing is learned and I call the next day to apologize for being kurt, occasionally writing a blog article asking for help in helping my mom.

    Maybe if she and I each popped some valium before a session it would be more productive and pleasant. While funny, quite possibly true.

  11. Bummer,
    I feel that way with my kids. I have to remember to tone it down or risk alienating them completely.
    Good Luck

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