Best iPhone for seniors

Hello. I’m in the process of organising a new iPhone for my 84 year old Mum (who is not tech savvy). Should go for a simpler phone like the SE with a button at the bottom (what she is used to) or one with Face ID. With the latter, I worried that having to learn new gestures, menu options etc, it will be too bigger transition.

I would value and advise/ experience anyone has.


If she currently uses an iPhone with a Home button, I would choose the current SE model (3rd Generation) for consistency. It has an A15 cpu and 4 GB RAM, so it easily should get a few more years of support from Apple.

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Stay with the current SE for the home button. I can always tell my Mom (who is a year older than yours) to “press the button!” to get her out of a spot she’s lost in.

There was an earlier thread about this with lots of good insight:

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My spouse and I have been helping elders in our families with technology, including desktops, phones, and tablets, over the last several years. If I were facing a similar situation, I would make the “new” iPhone one that is as similar as possible to the iPhone currently in use, with a preference for iPhones that can run iOS 17.

Why? Here are the key reasons:

  • A lot of people, particularly elders, rely on memorized patterns and muscle memory to use their devices. This means being able to use, say, a tablet for as long as possible with no changes in how to reach the Home screen or adjust the sound volume, for example, is really important.
  • Apple’s corporate strategy is centered around accelerated obsolescence of its hardware and software.
  • Apple prioritizes form over function. This means frequent design changes, both to hardware and software.
  • Changing devices can be stressful for people who rely on muscle memory to use tech hardware, especially if a new device is even slightly different in some way. Example: removing the Home button on iOS hardware. The same goes for UI/UX.
  • Outdated hardware and software results in hard-to-explain technical issues that often can only be fixed through a major software update or new hardware. Example: expired browser security certificates on a Mac that is stuck on an unsupported version of macOS.

Well, my response here may be a little different from all the rest. Let me state that I am currently 70 years old. While I have been a computer user since 1990 – and am also a webmaster running a web server in my own home – I held out on purchasing my first iPhone until 2017, because I still had a landline, and that is all that I needed at the time. That is, until I landed in the hospital and needed a mobile phone after that; and until our local phone company got shifty and began to not repair public pay phones, so that us resistors would be forced to purchase a cell phone, which obviously makes them more money. :slight_smile:

At any rate, my first cell phone was an iPhone 7 Plus with the home button as you have described. I used it for two years until 2019 when I upgraded to an iPhone Xs Max without the home button, and with Face ID. For me personally, it has been no issue to upgrade; but then, your mom may not have the experience that I have.

But let me also add that we should not underestimate the intelligence or abilities of our elders. My mom is now 88, and while she uses an Android, we email pretty much multiple times on a daily basis, and use Meet – formerly known as Duo – to video chat a few times a week. So there it is for what it is worth. :)

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Actually, one of the great parts of Apple is how consistent the hardware – especially iOS hardware – has been since introduction. This has been of major benefit to my Mom, because the iPhone has been essentially a screen and a button since the start until very recently. That’s impressive consistency and means I can upgrade her without worrying about the big change. I’ll probably get her on a current SE pretty soon and that may last her out.

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I agree…with the caveat that the perception of consistency depends a lot on each user. What feels like a “small” change (say, moving Touch ID from the Home button to a side button or moving the Power/Sleep button from the top of a device to the side) to one person can, in practice, be a very confusing change to another person.

Supporting one elder in my family in particular has really shown me, over and over, just how much people who like technology or who are digital natives take for granted when interacting with devices. When a personal interest or an intuitive feel for tech is absent, using smart phones, tablets, and computers can be stressful and confusing.


Thanks all for your prompt comments - much appreciated. Please don’t misread me - I agree entirely that there are some older folk that are very tech savvy, but my Mum is not one of them! I’ll go for an SE.


My non-tech-savvy 95-year-old mother-in-law has just successfully switched from an iPhone 8 to an iPhone 15. The increased size of the screen allowed by not having the home button was the critical feature she wanted (so she could see a lot even with a large font size), and why she rejected the iPhone SE. She also considered an iPhone 13, which I have, but decided to get the latest-and-greatest.

I taught her to swipe up from the middle of the bottom edge instead of pressing the home button; it took her a few tries because she wasn’t used to swiping (see below), but she has it now. Swiping down from the top right edge to get at the Control Panel was also easily learned.

About learning to swipe: For the first few swipes she started on the display and swiped, which is how she (and we all) do it when, say, deleting a Messages conversation. That didn’t work: it sometimes just tapped an icon at the bottom of the screen, opening Mail for her. I showed her how to start with her finger at at the edge of the phone instead of at the bottom of the display, and it started working for her. Teaching in person was critical for that because I could see exactly what she was doing and correct it.


Adam – do you maybe want to combine these two threads into a page? Lots of good advice in both of them and it would save people searching for various threads.

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Sounds like good fodder for a TidBITS article! Thanks for tripping that neuron.

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My mom has an iPhone 8 Plus, which has a home button. While the SE also has the home button which would make the transition easier, its smaller screen would be a deal breaker for her because of her eyesight. Also, Touch ID never worked reliably for her, so Face ID would be a plus.

While I’ve been thinking she will need to upgrade her phone soon, I know it will inevitably lead to arguments, complaints, and whining until she gets used to a new phone. Frankly, I don’t want to hear it, so I’ve been reluctant to pull the trigger.

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I am the unofficial tech support for several seniors, and I think the Home button is overrated. My mom (in her 80s) transitioned to the swipe up quite easily and the only issue is that it’s harder to explain or refer to that gesture over the phone. (I usually just say “go back to the screen with all the icons” and they know how to do that without understanding the specifics of how they do that.)

But on the other hand, with another person I helped over the phone, it took me 10 minutes to get her to find the Home button. (It turned out she had the phone upside down, so there was no button on the “chin” of her phone! :man_facepalming:t3:)

Far more severe than the hardware changes are the software ones and those happen every year with OS upgrades.


Keep in mind that there might be physical issues at some point, too. My parents both had a very difficult time with touch screens in their last years. Their skin was so thin and dry that it didn’t easily register.

Giving them pen-style styluses helped a lot.


More good comments - thanks. I am now not as anti Face-ID. I do not have a Face-ID phone (running an SE, but about to go to 15), so my knowledge on setting up, using and the reliability of Face-ID is zero. Taking to a colleague yesterday, I was encouraged to buy my phone first and try Face-ID - he maintained it would be a better and simpler option for my Mum, from both a setup and usability perspective. Good advice which I will follow.

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And my article is now live…


I use Face ID in a variety of apps on my iPhone. It is definitely easy and convenient to use, as opposed to remembering, and then typing in, a password. If you have large finger tips, typing in the right characters for a password can be a bit challenging. And, if you are elderly with poor vision, it doesn’t make it any easier. I’m sure Big Brother already has our faces stored in some secret global database somewhere already, so … :slight_smile: :smiley: :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ve found that the swipe method of input (on recent iOS releases) is great here. Instead of tapping each character, put your finger down on the first letter and then swipe to each subsequent letter and lift up after the last one. The phone will (usually) enter the word you swiped.

So you only need to tap things that aren’t in it’s dictionary (e.g. proper nouns or URLs). After getting used to this, there’s no going back. Which is why I no longer like entering text on my Android phone. :slight_smile:

Fortunately, your face-print biometrics never leave the phone. They’re stored in its secure enclave.

I suppose Apple could be lying to us, and they have a secret database with everybody’s face-print somewhere, but since they’ve never lied to us about something like this before, I believe them about this. (They’ve occasionally been wrong, but I can’t recall any occasion where they published something they knew at the time to be false.)

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You know, David, I did read about the new swiping technique, but I have never actually tried it. I think it is a case of “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” … because he is so set in his one-character-at-a-time old ways. :smiley:

Yes, I am aware of what they say about our biometrics remaining on our devices; but gee, making it sound all Orwellian might get a few more folks here to respond. But me personally? Nah, I don’t trust any of the big tech companies. They’ve all got dirt swept under the rug. And I will leave it at that. :smiley: