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How to help choose the right iPhone or iPad

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If you have the privilege of helping to select an iPhone or iPad for a less-technically-able family member or friend, it is important to choose the device that will be the best for the user, not yourself.

Mister Icon eyeing a pricey iPhone

If you're like me, you'll usually want to try and purchase the best Apple device that you can afford so that you can get access to the latest and greatest features, and to ensure that the device will give many years of enjoyment. But if you're shopping for someone else, it is important to resist the urge to go straight for the top-of-the-line models.

I think it's good to consider the purchase process as a three step process.

  1. Consider first of all the needs your friend or family member has for the device
  2. Consider their budget
  3. Finally get down to the finer points like colour choice and accessories

If you have a rich grandparent who wants a new phone, you might be tempted to just go out and get them the most expensive iPhone you can buy, with the biggest storage capacity and an Apple Watch to go with it.

But it is important to remember that the most expensive option might not always be the best one, even if money is no object.

For instance, many people have difficulty with ‘swiping’ gestures, and many also like the ability to always get back to the start quickly and easily if something goes wrong.

That means that for many people, the cheaper iPhone and iPad models that still have a proper home button might be preferable to more expensive models.

The home button was a great feature that has served Apple's mobile devices well for many years. I still like it myself because it is an instant way to get back to the home screen and is basically impossible to muck up.

Swiping requires more manual dexterity, which can be an issue for lots of people, so I think devices like the iPhone SE Gen 2 and iPad Gen 9 (which still have a home button) are still going to be desirable for some time.

As with most things in life, however, choosing the best device almost always involves trade-offs of some kind.

For example, you might be purchasing a device for someone who really wants to use it for photography, yet has the aforementioned difficulties with swiping. You could buy them an iPhone SE Gen 2, but it lacks the more advanced camera setups of, say, an iPhone 13 Pro Max. It is also physically smaller, with a smaller screen, but is lighter in weight.

People with impaired vision will benefit from larger screens, but with Apple, larger screens typically mean significantly larger price tags. Sometimes, the benefits of a larger screen might be outweighed by the added cost, weight and bulk.

Mister Icon wearing glasses and staring at an iPhone close up

If vision is a really big issue, the largest possible device might be essential, but often a smaller device might still be perfectly adequate, particularly if it isn't expected to be used all the time. Using two fingers to zoom in on small content might sometimes be all that's needed to improve readability. And depending on a person's precise vision issues, it might also just be possible to move an iPhone much closer to the eyes to make things easier to see. There are also some brilliant Zoom accessibility features in iOS/iPadOS that can make on screen content as large as it needs to be.

I think the most important thing is to consider the ‘needs’ of your friend first. If you think they really need a bigger screen device, but money is an issue, then it may simply be a case where they have to save up for a while instead of rushing out to get a new device straight away. Then of course, there are payment plans from phone carriers to consider too.

Many elderly people probably won't require huge mobile data plans, unless they plan on making plenty of FaceTime calls or watching streaming video while away from a WiFi network. But then again, if they don't have fast broadband at home with a large data cap, they might be better off with more data on their mobile device instead.

This all gets back to considering the ‘needs’ of the user.

The great thing with Apple is that usually there are multiple ways to get things done. For example, if you have a friend that has difficulty ‘swiping’, yet they already have a home-button-free device, then you can use the AssistiveTouch Accessibility options in iOS/iPadOS to add a virtual home button to their screen.

Home screen with Mister Icon labels and AssistiveTouch virtual home button

Obviously it's not as good as the real thing, and can get in the way occasionally, but it could be just the ticket for you to help make their mobile device more useable, thereby increasing the enjoyment your friend gets from it.

Summing up

I hope you might have found this article to be useful. Everyone is different, so everyone will have different needs, and the ideal iPhone or iPad setup for one person might be very different to that of another person.

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