How best to simplify an iPhone

Yes, for some an iPhone has way too many functions. This is for an elderly person of 81 years who has used iPhones for years, he never was a power user, but he got by quite ok. Increasingly he finds it totally overwhelming. It’s an iPhone with FaceID, maybe a 12 or so.

We need at least email, WhatsApp, Safari, Photos, one or two banking apps.
He also has an Alexa device (and says, since he got it, “his life is complete again” )

Every morning he does Wordle at the New York Times, despite many attempts to explain how to get there, he always ends with googling for it, then “complains” that Google interferes when he only wants Wordle.

Any suggestion from the many who also help elderly friends most welcome. Shall we together generate a list of ideas?

Many thanks

Save a Safari link to the home screen. That way he can launch the Wordle site with a single tap just like any app.

In Safari navigate to the page you want to bookmark > Share button > Add to Home Screen > Add


What ever happened to Custom Accessibility Mode, which was supposed to come with iOS 16.2?

This would seem like a great way to simplify things.

The necessity of this makes me sad. Up until iOS 7, things were brilliantly simpler to use.

In addition to adding the favorite sites to the home screen, as Simon suggested, I’d also delete all the apps they don’t need or use.


This is very good advice and it’s actually made really simple now thanks to App Library. You don’t have to remove apps from the iPhone, but you can remove just their icons from the home screen. Just tap and hold as if you were to delete and then choose Remove from Home Screen (instead of Delete App). The icons will disappear from the springboard and that will reduce clutter, but if you or somebody else helping out needs to access the app, you can still get it through App Library (or search).


You can download the Wordle app from the Games App Store, and try setting up a very prominent icon for it on top of the Home Screen. Enlarging the size of type on her iPhone a little made it easier for my mother to play Wordle. And she sometimes teamed up to play Wordle over the phone with an equally elderly friend.

My mother liked Words With Friends also, it might be interesting for your friend.

Yes, because there are simply too many such a person would never ever use. (TV, Health, iMovie, iTunes, Home, Apple store to name just a few)

Or just push them onto a secondary page.

I’m also now thinking about limiting various “signals”. Every automatic notification from an app can send this person into some nervous meltdown, the thought pattern is: “What have I done wrong?” This generation is simply not used to deal with the information overload of today.

Yet another aspect is that many apps and devices bring you back to exactly the point where you left off earlier. Counterproductive if this point is some real or perceived error situation. Even a restart can’t solve such situations.

Yes. I really don’t think it’s a generational thing so much as it is a basic issue of human cognition and emotional regulation, though, of course, age is a factor in those things. Even teenagers will benefit from disabling extraneous notifications.

My digital life has improved dramatically ever since I started configuring my devices to have all notifications disabled, and then only to go back and enable the notifications I truly care about.


I definitely agree with that.

Even as a young grad student I always felt less is more in the sense that the very few distractions I wanted, were for stuff that’s really important, whereas everything that wasn’t super critical shouldn’t get in my way or compete for my attention. Once I was homed in on the “zone”, I didn’t want anything that’s not really super critical or urgent to interrupt that.

To this day I carry over that more minimalist approach. The default is one thing at a time and notifications remain off. The very few notifications I allow are for the things that are allowed to grab my attention, stuff I know I really don’t want to miss. And the less there is of that, the better. It’s not just notifications, it’s also decluttering and housekeeping, all the way from my Mac’s Finder desktop to the iPhone’s home screen and even to my real desk at my lab. The less there is there aiming for my attention, the better. And the few things that are allowed to stay there, are there because they’re really important.

I used to joke about how I as a male wasn’t capable of multitasking, but my psychologist wife always assures me it’s not just men, but rather that humans in general don’t really multitask well. We like to believe we can, but research tells us our brain really can’t. So for now I guess I’ll be sticking to my slow serial KISS principled world. :slight_smile:


Isn’t it an irony that iOS developers are aware of the information overload. Instead of reducing it, their reaction is to ask us to engage even more with focus modes.

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That irony isn’t lost on me. I’m sure they mean well, but to some of us it’s the premise that’s the problem. You can’t fix a house by applying a roof patch when the foundation is already cracking.

This struck me real hard during Apple’s demo for the AVP. At some point they showed some rich white tech bro dad who’s “celebrating” his kid’s birthday with the $3.5k ski goggles scrapped to his noggin and they then point out how great it is that you cannot only view through the AVP, but also record that viewing so that later you can watch it again as a memory. And I’m sitting there totally flabbergasted they don’t realize the irony of this whole geek problem: oh great, so after you’ve missed actually partaking in your kid’s birthday because instead you had to play with your nerd toy, you can at least later watch a recording of the very event you missed. Of course again relying on the very same boy toy that caused you to miss being really there for/with your kids in the first place. Awesome. :laughing:

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Yeah, the point was, I think, that he was recording. And I didn’t have such a visceral reaction because at most concerts I attend, many people are “experiencing” it through their iPhone camera. I don’t like it, but that horse has left the barn.

But back on the topic of simplification, pruning notifications to just the few apps that Senior would use is definitely a good idea. And I’d probably turn off App Library (assuming that’s possible) so they don’t stumble into it and get overwhelmed with a user experience unlike any they’ve seen before.

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I think your 81-year old user should be congratulated for using an iPhone at all. I don’t think my eyesight will cope too well with one by then!

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While it doesn’t sound like an issue that applies to the original poster, it also is worth thinking about differences in phone operations when upgrading phones. For example, many routine operations are simply different between a phone with a physical home button and Touch ID vs a phone without one.

For example, I was surprised at how much friction I experienced while simultaneously carrying a personal 6s (Home button) and a 12 (no Home button) for work. The muscle memory for one phone did not work for the other phone. To some degree, I lost muscle memory on my 6s and didn’t develop the necessary memory on the 12 until I replaced the 6s with a 13. I don’t recall all the examples, but aside from the differences in buttons, there were cases where a function would use an up-swipe on one model and a down-swipe on the other.

I have a senior relative who currently uses an 8. When it is time to upgrade this fall, I will be inclined to get her a 3rd gen SE to minimize changes in buttons, gestures, etc.


For my Mom, who’s about the same age, I set up her phone by:

  1. Putting the apps she used on the front page. There were few enough of them that they all fit, and then that was the only page she had to deal with.
  2. Putting the really heavily used apps (email, web) on the dock.
  3. Turning off all notifications and then turning back on a select few (this after she accidentally subscribed to Apple News about five times by tapping on a notification).
  4. I deliberately got her an iPhone 8, which still had a home button, so no matter where she gets herself lost in the phone, I can tell her to press the button and she’ll get back to the front page.
  5. Set up a few group chats with various family & friends and then pinned them to the top of Messages so they’d always be available.
  6. Told her that no, her grandson is not stuck in Mexico/Estonia/Italy and that she should not wire him money (to be fair, she’s pretty skeptical about that kind of spam already)
  7. Set up favorites in the phone app so she could just tap them and call select people.
  8. She was already on T-Mobile and they have good plans for seniors so I got her on one of those.

To answer my own question, it looks like Apple changed approach. Assistive Access is supposed to be coming later this year. Apple touts this as an approach for people with cognitive disabilities, but it may also be useful for people who are generally tech-phobic as well who would do well with a simplified interface. (I knew this question raised a familiar recent story I read, I just couldn’t remember what it was.)

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Ha. This demonstrates the approach of many tech companies, not just Apple. A slightly less than perfect vision or thick finger syndrome or a general wish to keep things simple is seen in the developer communities as a cognitive disability. By the same token everybody over 50 is seen as elderly. Actually quite patronising.


@silbey A brilliant list, thank you so much.

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Boy, I really didn’t see that this way at all. I’m not an expert at preparing technology for people with cognitive disabilities at all, but my intuition suggests that simplifying what can be a very complicated system, with many hidden and not always obvious user interactions, would make using a device like an iPhone a possibility that perhaps does not exist today.

And the added benefit would be that any other user who wants a simplified experience, of any age and technical knowledge, may benefit from this user experience. And, I’m fact, for the 81 year old person who is frustrated using an iPhone that you described.

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Why looking down this way on older people! We might be slower, but perfectly able to use an iPhone (as well as a computer) and setting it up according to our needs (82 and 83).