Jitterbug: Mobile Entertainment tech for mHealth

By: Brian Dolan | Feb 6, 2009        

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Jitterbug phoneAt the TEPR conference in Palm Springs this week, Arlene Harris, Chairwoman and co-founder of Greatcall, the parent company of the senior-focused Jitterbug mobile phone service announced her company’s plans to offer a number of mHealth related applications and services. Harris said Jitterbug plans to do offer the services over the same types of phones that her company has been offering to the 55+ crowd and anyone else looking for a (very) simple user interface with no icons or multi-purposed buttons.

“My original business plan said we would be cashflow positive after an investment of $26 million,” Harris said. “It’s clear we are going to be way over $100 million [in investments] before our business is profitable.” It’s also clear that Harris intends mHealth applications like diabetes management, post-operation triage services and medicine adherence reminders to help contribute to the company’s bottom line.

“Earlier at this conference someone predicted that all cellphones delivered to the market this year will be Internet-enabled. Well, that’s not true,” Harris said. “We are not Internet-enabling our phones. We are, however, launching new phones that are connected to a walled garden because we want to control the experience of our customers… [who are] technophobic, typically older, typically very costly to our healthcare industry.”

Harris said that Jitterbug’s most important goal was to get a mobile device into these people’s hands so that they are then able to stay mobile–leave the house, maintain independence and still keep in touch with family and friends and their health providers–from anyone.

“So while we are going to be implementing data services on our phones, we are doing it in a controlled environment,” Harris said. “Unlike Google or iPhone, we want to make sure that if we offer these services, that they have been sanitized for simplicity.”

Harris said Jitterbug is currently conducting trials for diabetes management, rheumatoid arthritis management, outpatient post-op support and medication compliance as well as location-based services. Jitterbug’s data enabled (1xCDMA) handsets are set to launch in the Spring, Harris said, and applications like the post-operation triage support and medicine compliance services are likely to be the first mHealth services that Jitterbug launches. The pilots for diabetes management services and rheumatoid arthritis management services are only just beginning.

“The wireless industry is very much focused on entertainment,” Harris said. “I applaud anyone using the technology being spent on entertainment and repackaging it for mobile health, for applications that are less… youthful,” she said. “Help us keep everyone more mobile.”

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  • David Hoffman

    Arlene Harris is going to be dissapointed in the future. I looked at her company for mobile phone service. The hardware is great. The plan costs are great. No real text messaging. Very bad. The business model will fail in the long term because the people who are used to great text messaging are just behind her targeted age group. As her targeted age group dies off, her potential replacement customers will refuse to do business with her company because the garden is way too small. She needs full capability text messaging now. This health related stuff is great but, without full capability basic text messaging she is going to have a very small cutomer base compared to what she could have.

  • Jonathon Schwartz

    Hoffman is off base. I am exactly in the “potential replacement customers” group, and I never use text messaging, and nobody I know (in my cohort–60 to 70) does either. I’m a computer professional–a software engineer to the initiated, or programmer, and a web site developer (see http://www.personalremedies.com); I’m no technophobe. He should try talking to people he purports to represent, instead of posting his personal biases.

  • David Hoffman

    Jonathon Schwartz, please let me explain in more detail. When I examined the Jitterbug I took note of the existing text messaging feature. It is the kind of walled garden Arlene speaks of. You can reply to messages by scrolling thru a list of replies programmed into your Jitterbug. I recognized that as a very good thing. What I was dissapointed with was that the feature was the only option for replying to text messages. Jitterbug had recognized the need for text messaging, but had eliminated the possibility of replying directly with a message that may not be one of the ones in the listing on the phone. They should have provided both options to the customer. You can get the list on the phone updated, but that may take a day to get accomplished. On the age issue I am looking at people in the 50-60 age group who are potential customers. Many of the people I know as they age would like to have a phone with some of the features they have on the phones they use now, but they definitely want the bigger buttons, larger screen text, and superior sound quality of the Jitterbug phone. In fact, they would buy such a phone now if the carrier they use would offer it. If I could have gotten an unlocked Jitterbug phone to use with Verizon, I would have done it.

  • M Watson

    I found this discussion by searching “Jitterbug” AND “Texting”. Schwartz & Hoffman both make good points. I’m in the Hoffman demographic and use a Samsung Blackjack. My spouse is in the Schwartz demographic and is suffering a sadly- too-early mental decline. I am waiting for the Jitterbug to offer texting as text messaging is the only media by which he and his son communicate. I don’t want to take that away in exchange for the more simple phone. To stay true to the environment of the garden, he would need to call the operator, and have the operator text the reply. In reality, today I serve as “the Operator”, as he hands me the phone and tells me what to text back. I need the phone to offer text service AND GPS locating to help me keep track of him.

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