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Which cell phone should I buy for my grandmother?


More Clarity Features
The Clarity cell phone has a slide-out number pad.
The Clarity cell phone has a slide-out number pad.
© Clarity

In general, senior citizens don't make a lot of phone calls. They usually have a small list of numbers they'll call once in a while. They also don't tend to use data plan features. This makes senior citizens a low-priority demographic for most cell phone carriers. That's why Clarity markets its phones more toward the caregivers than the actual end user.

The Clarity phone is an unlocked global system for mobile telecommunication (GSM) phone. That means it should work with any cell phone carrier that supports the GSM protocol. All the consumer has to do is add a line to his or her account, get a subscriber identity module (SIM) card from the carrier, put it in the Clarity phone and hand over the phone.

Clarity designed the phone so that caregivers can program it remotely. If an elderly user doesn't know how to add numbers to a contact list, the caregiver can handle it by sending a text message to a special number. The end user doesn't have to worry about learning a complicated programming system -- to the end user, the phone simply works.

The caregiver can also create a list of five emergency contacts that the Clarity phone can dial when an emergency panic button on the back of the device is pressed and held. Holding the button down for a few seconds causes the phone to dial the series of emergency contact numbers. When the other end of the line activates, an automated voice asks the other person to push a button to confirm that he or she is a real person. If the phone reaches voicemail or an answering machine, it hangs up and dials the next number.

In the future, phones for senior citizens may include other unique features. Mr. van den Bergh says that Clarity is working on devices that can monitor the user's environment to help caregivers keep an eye on parents and other loved ones while away. For example, future phones may have a temperature gauge designed to alert the caregiver if the temperature falls below or rises above certain limits.

­Companies like Clarity are filling an untraditional niche in the consumer technology market. But the products these companies create may help give caregivers peace of mind and senior citizens the ability to live happier, more independent lives.

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