For the major US carriers, there's a decided lack of "simple phones" — large icons, large buttons, and basic features targeted for seniors who don't want complex technology and kids whose parents don't want them abusing wireless freedom. (The notable exception is Jitterbug, which uses the MVNO GreatCall Wireless.) I know this — I've been looking for one that lets my grandmother stay on AT&T. Emporia has found great success tackling the market in Europe and is expanding to North American and Latin America in 2012. It probably sounds ridiculous to most people reading this, but I'm actually kind of excited.
The first devices will be the EmporiaClick and EmporiaSOLIDPlus. Both have a large display and keys, one-touch call for care (it'll rotate through five stored numbers until someone picks up, and if not, to emergency services), alarm clock, calculator, birthday reminders, and support for GSM 850 / 1900 — yes, it should work for T-Mobile and AT&T — and AWS 1700 for Canada. Here's where they diverge: the EmporiaClick is a flip camera phone with MMS, high-powered vibration and loud ringtones, and hearing aid compatibility. The front also has three large keys for quickly calling stored contacts. The battery lasts an estimated 240 minutes talk time and 320 hours standby. The EmporiaSOLIDPlus, successor to the EmporiaSOLID, meets MIL-STD-810F military spec for ruggedness, has an extra loud speakerphone, bluetooth, and hands-free function. Talk time is also 240 minutes but standby is a claimed 25 days. They're both dirt simple and easy to use — which for the target market is exactly what's needed.
Both are due out this spring as unlocked devices, with the Click an estimated sub-$100 and SOLIDPlus under $150. Greg Foley, Emporia Telecom USA chief, told me the company was talking with carriers both major and rural. I also asked about the company's future strategy given — and well, there's no easy way to put it — the senior market for simple phones will diminish over time as more people grow old familiar with smartphones. Foley wouldn't divulge anything except to say that the company had a strategy to develop into that smartphone space for its "multi-generational" audience — it's "looking to simplify smartphone applications in the senior segment." Some people go crazy over thermostats and washing machines, but to me, this is a segment that could use some more attention.