Many members of the older generation are now taking a leap into the unknown and buying smartphones or tablets; partly to keep up with others and because this gives them a new avenue of communication into the outside world and stops feelings of isolation. Learning new skills and technology can also be a confidence boost, which is definitely a plus point for anyone buying into the smart market for the first time.

As with all new technology, setting things up and choosing which apps to download can be tricky, time consuming and confusing, so we’ve put together this quick guide to 4 of the best free mobile communication apps out there for older people (features correct as of August 2018).

Facebook / Facebook Messenger

Available on all major app markets, this social network is great for all ages and can work to bring different groups together using the Facebook Groups function – for example, local knitting clubs, cinema goers, walkers etc. Families also use private Facebook Groups to connect on a personal level and this allows for easier communication of different events, such as births, marriages, invites etc.

The Facebook Messenger app works independently from the main Facebook app and is literally just that – a messaging app. It does allow for group messages as well as 1-2-1 communication and has a simple interface.

Pros

  • Simple and easy to use with a clear layout
  • Easily recognised by most users, so the younger generation will be able to teach the older generation how to use it
  • Works with the native software or hardware on each device for easy keyboard input
  • Allows for free photo sharing both publicly and privately
  • Profile can be locked down, as can status updates, for maximum privacy
  • Not indexed by search engines, so users will not appear in detail on the world wide web
  • The Groups function is great for family sharing or connecting with friends/like minded individuals
  • Local community pages and groups are also great for encouraging social interaction
  • Supports voice messaging

Cons

  • Could be confusing with 2 apps to use instead of 1
  • Facebook itself has many features that the older generation may not want to use but may find confusing – they cannot be turned off or removed.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is also available for download on most major app markets and is a messaging service that also allows for photo, video, emoji and GIF sharing. Whilst the older generation may not make full use of its features, they will still be able to receive them and enjoy them.

Pros

  • Only one app to download and understand
  • Streamlined functions make for easy chatting, either 1-2-1 or in a group
  • Enhanced media sharing options available if desired
  • Also available to use on a web browser as long as the phone running WhatsApp is nearby
  • Used on a multi-generational level, so it should be easy if you need to assist someone with it to understand it
  • Regular updates are issued for security and safety.
  • It is all encrypted for enhanced security
  • Supports voice messaging

Cons

  • Web browser set up requires QR Code setup, so assistance may be needed for this
  • Enhanced media sharing options could be confusing
  • WhatsApp defaults to saving media directly to the camera roll, which can take up space on your device. This can be turned off, but this may be confusing without assistance
  • Different versions (i.e. for Apple phones and Android devices) look and act differently, so it is not seamless to move from device to device
  • No iPad version, although it can be used, it does not render well

Outlook

Outlook is a great email app that is accessible for the majority of devices and operating systems. It is basically a pared down version of the desktop email client but will sync across a large number of email providers (including Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo) to keep people connected.

Outlook did start life primarily aimed at business users, but focus has switched to include the domestic sector, with many switching to Outlook from native Mail apps because it is more reliable and offers more features. Whilst the older generation may not be bothered about using the inbuilt calendar or sending photos, it’s easy to just use the features you want.

Pros

  • Regularly updated as part of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to security
  • Emailing is very easy and the app supports everything from plain text to rich HTML to media sharing
  • Supports a wide range of email providers, both free and paid
  • Intuitive interface makes life easier, especially for those who may just need to use the basic functions such as creating and reading emails
  • Works with inbuilt keyboard so no need for additional third party hardware
  • Uses fingerprint security on some devices and operating systems

Cons

  • As with any app, some of the enhanced options can be confusing if you’re not used to working with technology
  • The additional fingerprint function is great but again, could be confusing for some

Skype

When people hear “Skype” they most likely think of using it for business, but Skype has pushed hard to get a foot in the door with the domestic market by separating out it’s offering into two different apps; Skype and Skype for Business. Skype is aimed at people who want to use it for text chatting and 1-2-1 calling (voice and video), whereas Skype for Business is a premium solution allowing for conferencing and multi user chats.

Skype is a bit clunky when you compare it to rivals such as WhatsApp or normal text chats, but it has a legacy following and may be recognised by the older generation who used it before their retirement. In this way, it may be more familiar than one of the newer comers to the app market and more comforting in its familiarity.

Pros

  • Great for both text chats and calls, including video
  • Reliable
  • May be easier to use than some of the other chat and calling apps out there, because it offers less in the way of enhanced options
  • Can still send photos and media if desired
  • Available on desktop and will sync with your account across all devices

Pros

  • One of many on the market now, so could confuse someone who has used another chat/calling app
  • Can be confused with Skype for Business
  • Blue and white interface is quite corporate and doesn’t feel welcoming
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