Explore the Galaxy

A blossoming UK startup wants to simplify the smartphone and make it easy to read and simple to use for the over-50s. But not at the expense of dumbing down the latest tech.

Zone V has been working closely with mobile giant Samsung to offer downloadable state-of-the-art software and hard cases that make cutting edge smartphones more accessible.

The new company is the brainchild of former Nokia design executives, Dr Peter Ashall and Frank Nuovo. Peter told ‘Look Who’s Talking’ that smartphone technology today is so incredible ‘it’s really important to release some of that power so that people who are challenged can get their independence back.’

Zone V directors

From left to right, Richard Ashall Programme Director, Peter Ashall CEO, Sarah Guggenheim Product Director, Mike Bowerman Sales Director

Read our full chat with CEO Peter and discover how Zone V could be the answer to having the benefits of a smartphone but without the complexity. 

Peter, can you tell us about Zone V’s journey to market?

The short history is that I’ve worked for many years with Frank. He was the brains behind the look and feel of all the iconic Nokia phones throughout the 90s and the early 2000s.

We started looking at the smartphone and noticed two big dynamics that are happening in the industry. First is that smartphones are becoming even more central to our lives, from social engagement to everyday functions like banking or interacting with the local council.

Second, as smartphones become more capable, they also become more complex. This isn’t always great for baby boomers who like technology and what it can deliver, but find it tricky getting to grips with these kinds of devices.

Zone V carried out extensive research with around 4,000 UK adults aged over 50 last year. What did you find?

Our results were very interesting. As society becomes more enamoured with digital technologies and everything converges towards it, those who can’t use it become disenfranchised and cut-off, leading to a widening of the digital divide.

The over 50s told us straight. They want a smartphone that’s easy to read and hold, as well as having a straightforward menu and a less fiddly way to charge it.

Putting our findings together, we set out to create a product that would help those at one end of the spectrum, people living with blindness and severe vision impairment. And older people whose eyesight and hearing may not be what it once was.

We came up with ways to transform the smartphone experience with inclusive technology. Our focus was on clear navigation and interaction, including using voice features for control.

Soon we were talking to the market and Samsung approached us about working together. Using their smartphone platform, we created a solution that we launched in April this year. It’s brand new.

What’s on offer from Zone V?

componentsPhysical interaction with a device often can’t be cracked with just an app, so we’re bringing into play both a physical and software solution.

We’ve designed a specialised case that fits around specific Samsung smartphones and comes with great features. One of my favourites is the magnetic lock on the connecting port which guides the charging cable into place. Makes charging simple and frustration free.

Also, we built a magnifier into the case which allows you to see very small text easily. And there’s a neat feature with sound. With most smartphones the sound comes out of the bottom, but we bend the sound around the front so it’s clearer.

The case itself is very robust, it can withstand a few knocks. And it’s very tactile. If you hold one of the latest smartphones you’ll know that they’re very slim, sleek and slippery… and consequently very easy to drop. Which unfortunately a lot of people do before they realise it’s very sensible to put it in a case.

There are also a number of markers on the case which means it’s possible to navigate around the device purely by touch. And it comes with a detachable hand loop designed to make the phone easier to hold.

What does the app do?

HomepageIn simple terms, we produced an overlay on Android. But our downloadable software is not just an app, it’s almost like an operating system because it digs a lot deeper into the Android software. It makes the device very easy to read and simple to use but still unleashes the full power of the smartphone.

That’s what makes us stand out. Unlike some other solutions available for simplifying smartphones, our product doesn’t lose any functionality. After all, there’s no point in working with a market leader like Samsung if the user can’t access the full potential of their technology. So that’s our whole premise, embrace the full functionality but make it very simple.

Our software goes hand in hand with the case, but will also work without it. The software runs on any Samsung smartphone going back to 2014. Anyone who’s replacing their older Samsung with the new Samsung Galaxy S8 can recycle their old phone and give it to a relative, say a parent.

With our software the upcycled smartphone is more likely to be used with confidence by the older person rather than ending up in a drawer. Because it’s so simple, there’ll be fewer requests for help with getting it up and running.

How is Zone V helping people?

Software messagesWe believe that technology should be delivering solutions to people for whom standard ways of working aren’t quite good enough.

Our products gives people back control over what they do. That’s come out of the relentless testing we’ve carried out with focus groups. For instance, one of our testers had a fine motor control condition and her hands would shake quite uncontrollably. She couldn’t plug in a charger. Because of the magnetic plug system we’ve invented, she was able to charge her phone easily for the first time.

We’re continually taking feedback. The first thing people always tell us is they have a relative this would be perfect for. It’s a product that everybody can relate to.

It’s pretty great to put the power back into the hands of somebody who wants to use a smartphone but can’t.

What are your hopes for Zone V?

We launched in the UK, and though it’s early days still, we’re looking at a wider international distribution. And we really welcome and encourage feedback.

It’s great that people are saying ‘what a fantastic product’, but I want to hear what could make it better. No product is perfect and ideally our next stage of development will come from real-life users who give us their thoughts on how we can improve. We can take these ideas, mould them and implement into our next release.

We want our first product to be something that closes the gap on the digital divide, something that starts to help people. My colleague Frank and I want to put our collective experience back into the industry and cause that kind of change.

For more information or to give Peter your feedback, watch Zone V in action, visit the Zone V website and Facebook page, or follow on Twitter.

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