iPhone Recommendations for Senior Citizens

Originally published at: iPhone Recommendations for Senior Citizens - TidBITS

Many people find themselves helping older friends or family members with reduced physical or cognitive capabilities. Adam Engst distills advice from a pair of TidBITS Talk discussions that asked about the best iPhone and simplifying the iPhone experience for older people.


The ‘Email whom?’-script is a great idea. But it ought to have a cancel option.

Good idea! I’ve added that now.

Addressing security issues and the iPhone is another topic as is taking photos/videos–every single older person I’m associated with wants/needs to do that with their iPhone and making it less complex to take an image and “send” it (text or email) is key. In addition, many seniors use their iPhone in conjunction with the Apple Watch (my 89-year-old Mom loves how it looks so much “better” to her than those monthly subscription “alert” devices). Hence, I’d love some ideas from others (another article, Adam?) on optimizing those for older folks (e.g. the “larger” size Watch, while it can look a bit large on a thin wrist, is much easier to"finger navigate"). A great topic–thank you!

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Hi, Tonya
I lost your email. If you still have my AOL or Dot Mac address, please contact me off list.

Dennis Swaney

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Even though we’re an iPhone family, there was no way that we were going to get an iPhone for my wife’s mother, who’s never even used a computer. We opted for a simpler device made here in Japan that is pretty simple and doesn’t need regular updates, even though the camera isn’t much better than the ones in our last flip phone. It’s tough to try to explain to her how to use it.

Thanks Adam for the article, I think many of the advice here is useful in general. Why did I not know that conversations can be pinned in Messages? Notifications management is also helpful in stewarding our attention. Removing unused apps seems like a generally good practice to me: this frees up space and unnecessary network/compute consumption.


My wife and I are both insulted by the commercials targeting seniors for “simple” phones. We are both in our early 70s and retired from tech careers. Neither of us are intimidated by our iPhones and often take advantage of new features if they are useful for us. While some of the stereotypes apply - like my late mother - most people my age I know handle new tech easily.

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I’m 72, and have been using computers since the old days when instructions were punched into cards. I’ve owned computers since the early '80s. I have programmed in Fortran, Linear Programming, Basic, Foxpro, spreadsheets, and various word processors.

But, I’m the only person in my extended family who does not own an iPhone. I do own a flip phone, but only carry and turn it on when I go into town. Yeah; this makes me a subject of mirth; I can bear it.

Why? I live on a small island where I have to walk down to the road to get a signal. When I do use an iPhone, it won’t respond to my taps; first I’m told I hit it too hard, then too soft; give me a break. When I am given, for example, my wife’s iPhone and get it going, I am faced with dozens of options that I have to go through screen after screen to find what I want.

What do I want from a cell phone? A PHONE! To TALK to people with, and make arrangements with people immediately. NOT to exchange zillions of short meaningless texts a la “Sup Dude”. Not to do computing that can be done more efficiently with a real keyboard.

I especially don’t want to memorize hundreds of new features that change weekly, although I know there are nerds who love this.

For the phone function, I use our land line. If I’m not here when someone calls, it has voicemail that even goes to my email. I don’t get anxious if I’m not immediately available to the entire world. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message or, “gasp”, phone back later.

Before I retired, I worked with people who strode around the office (that they never left) with Blackberries on their hips. I covered and travelled over thousands of square miles without a phone. And, did my job well. In some circumstances, like when cooperating with other officials and with farmers during forest fires, I grabbed a cellphone and used it as necessary. They do have their place. A limited place.

Thus endeth the rant. Thanks for the opportunity to get it off my chest.


One issue with your instructions: In the Section “The Best iPhone for Senior Citizens” the first set of instructions for adjusting text size direct the reader to “Settings> Display and Text Size,” etc.

But on my 2022 iPhone SE 3 (running iOS 17.0.3), those instructions are found at “Settings>Display and Brightness.”

This may be a niggling difference to some folks. But even before I was officially a “senior citizen” sometimes I found such discrepancies to be more than a slight annoyance. This one isn’t too bad but I think that it should be corrected anyway. . .

In my opinion, perhaps one of the most overlooked features for almost any user, is customizing the Control Center. As Adam’s article pointed out, it is accessed very differently on pre-FaceID devices, but this is still the best go-to place for most used features.

I add a variety of things to people’s phones depending on how they typically use their device. But some of the most important ones are: Alarm/Timer, Camera, Flashlight, Magnifyer, Text Size. Also enable “Access Within Apps” so the user can always find these tools. Another addition might be Notes. This permits quick access to basic text note-taking. For those having difficulty in certain lighting conditions, perhaps add Dark Mode for quick toggle options.

I intentionally put the Camera here because it is something people often want access to and they do not have to learn the left-swipe or require unlocking and hunting for the icon. Additionally, having Camera and Magnify on the same panel helps users learn to differentiate between these functions. Sadly, Apple’s implementation of Magnifier can be a bit confusing when you wish to save an image, but at least you can read small print with minimal effort.

Of equal importance may be how you position these items, which may take a little trial-and-error. I try to position Camera and Magnify either side-by-side or directly above each other as they are similar in function. With the older home-button style phones (ie. iPhone 6, 7, 8 and SE v2-3) you begin to get crowded after 2 rows of 4 icons at the bottom of the Control Center. If possible, try to leave the last slot free as this provides a nice spot to tap a finger and close the Control Center from the bottom, right corner.

One of my least favorite choices Apple has made is the WiFi and Bluetooth controls in Control Center that cannot fully disable either transmitter. You either have to engage Airplane Mode, or go digging into Settings to switch off completely.

(SIDEBAR: I suspect these temporary Wifi/Bluetooth toggles may be due in part to Apple’s desire to keep their devices connected as much as possible. As such, they “discourage” disabling of networking beyond one day. Every iOS/iPadOS update re-activates both WiFi and Bluetooth regardless of their prior state. No prompts to engage the user’s choice, it just happens.)

Quick tip: long-press that control center panel, then long-press the wifi icon, and you can more easily get to wifi settings.

I know that this was a controversial change, but I really think that Apple made the right choice here. It is probably better to assume that most users want to disconnect from wifi just for now, but not forever. I know that I will occasionally be in a hotel; connect to its wifi, find that it is unresponsive, but cellular is working just fine, so I’ll disconnect. (Of course power users disagree, but they/we are surely able to figure out how to turn wifi on and off properly.)

Features like handoff and AirDrop want these radios on, so, again, probably a good choice for most users.

It’s more than those useful functions in the case of Bluetooth . . . hearing aid users.


Tee hee! The rest of us are very envious of your island life . . . :slight_smile:

There is one place where iPhone/Android phones are incredibly useful. (Make sure your wife is along with you.)


If you’re prudent you’ll have analog backup for these things but with a smartphone you can fly without paper tickets, order a cab while you’re still approaching the gate, change reservations, make reservations, search for a restaurant you’ve heard about from the guy on the bus, reserve museum tickets, get a text from friends you’re meeting in an hour in a place where you can’t read the street signs, translate for you when you ask what that melon is (“Durian” Aiieeeee!) . . . the list goes on and on and on. They are a wonderful travel companion.


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This will be great for my mom :)

Gah! You’re absolutely right, and I’ve fixed the text now.

In retrospect, I think I know what went wrong. That list started with the options in Accessibility, where the item is “Display & Text Size” but at some point, I rearranged it and must have copied and pasted the items that should have used “Display & Brightness” but failed to update them.

You didn’t know about this because iPhones are hard to use, a fact I addressed years and years ago. It borders on impossible to learn about features you do not already understand, and certain make-or-break concepts, like the umpteen kinds of long presses, are “discovered” at best accidentally.

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It is more than a little baffling that an article about usability for seniors completely ignores Assistive Access in iOS 17, which dramatically simplifies the overall experience to the point where it resembles running a flip phone.

Also, while indeed addressed to some extent, the article ignores the crucial fact that exactly the people who are most apt to need emergency settings have no knowledge they exist and no ability to set them up. Even the absolute basic task of setting your own contact card (“What’s a contact card?”), upon which all else rests if you get in trouble in some way, is baffling and little-known. (That topic is almost impossible to find on Apple’s support site, even if you know what it’s called and are putting effort into locating it.)

If your phone knows who you are and what your address is, and, further, who your wife, husband, son, or daughter are, you can tell Siri “Get me home” if you’re lost, or “Call my wife” if you’re having chest pain.

I expect that barely half of longtime Tidbits readers even know this function exists, and half of that half have it set up.

Last but not least: Were you hoping for a user manual you could sit at your desk and read while you figure out your new iPhone? There ain’t one. Even the iBooks version, which, again, barely anyone knows about, hasn’t been updated for iOS 17 (to the extent I can even determine that in the Books application).


“Take Control” books are a very reliable, focused, easy to understand, and excellent resource of knowledge of the range of Apple hardware and software. Founded by Aden and Tonya Engst, and currently managed by the equally brilliant and dedicated Joel Kissel, they celebrated their 20th anniversary here on TidBITS about a week ago:

I’m probably one of, if not the least, technically inclined member of this list, and have always benefited greatly from Take Control. IMHO they have titles that would be beneficial to every level of skill set.

I also used to relay on the user guides in Books. But the Tips app on the iPhone has fairly detailed, comprehensive user guides for the iPhone, Apple Watch, HomePod, Apple TV, and AirPods (at least in iOS 17, not sure when these were added).