Practically since the general public started accessing the internet, companies have tried selling stripped-down internet-enabled devices designed to perform one single task. Most recently, we saw a specialized printer, marketed at grandparents that could receive and print out photographs sent to them over the web. By far the most common of these devices, however, seems to be the email device. The thinking goes that there are a lot of, again, grandparents, not connected to the internet, who no longer receive letters, because everyone else is now sending email. And it doesn't seem to matter how many times this has been tried, companies are trying it again. One new attempt looks exactly like every other failed device before it. It's a one-way street, for one thing, meaning the recipient of the letter won't be able to write back, and it requires specific hardware, as well as an ongoing subscription to service. Meanwhile, another company is trying to solve the back and forth communications problem by using fax technology as a bridge. So for $239 for the device, and another $139 per year in service fees, the elderly can use fax machines to communicate with email. This seems ridiculously expensive, particularly on the service side. And are fax machines really the best way to bring communications to those uncomfortable with technology? Perhaps the biggest problem for these offerings, however, is that they're trying to tap a shrinking market. The number of elderly people who don't have access to the internet will only decline over time. Instead of these narrowly focused with small markets, why not focus on the broader goal, of making computers and the internet easier to use?
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