Diane Mastrull: Marketing a touchscreen computer that's senior-friendly

The Telikin, an easy-to-use, easy-to-read touch-screen computer was designed to "bring the senior into the circle of sharing photos and communicating in e-mail and . . . on video chat so that they were more tied in," says Fred Allegrezza, who founded the Chalfont firm.
The Telikin, an easy-to-use, easy-to-read touch-screen computer was designed to "bring the senior into the circle of sharing photos and communicating in e-mail and . . . on video chat so that they were more tied in," says Fred Allegrezza, who founded the Chalfont firm. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 12, 2011

Like any good son, Fred Allegrezza wanted to make life easier for his mother.

Unlike most sons with magnanimous ambitions, Allegrezza's actually led to a business - one aimed at helping the AARP generation turn on and tune in. To the Internet, that is.

Allegrezza's business plan has a financial and a social bottom line - build profit and make isolation a less pervasive part of growing old.

At the center of his entrepreneurial endeavor is a computer called Telikin.

"The concept was to be able to bring the senior into the circle of sharing photos and communicating in e-mail and communicating on video chat so that they were more tied in to the rest of the loop . . . of a connected family," said Allegrezza, an engineer and serial entrepreneur.

Telikin is designed to be an easy-to-use, easy-to-read touch-screen computer (although a keyboard is provided, for those so inclined) that comes with software fully installed. It is offered in two screen sizes, 18.5 inches and 20 inches, and sells for $699 and $999, respectively.

First offered in 2009, Telikin's sales are expected to reach a rate of $10 million a year by the end of 2011, Allegrezza said, in part because of an agreement with Radio Shack to carry the computer this fall in an as-yet-undetermined number of stores throughout the country. Until now, sales have been largely through www.telikin.com and catalogs. Rachael Ray plugged Telikin on her show in the spring, calling it "the coolest thing ever."

Helping Allegrezza with Telikin's creation were Cliff Lewis and Tim Court. Along with Mike Tudisco, a former Comcast executive and now head of operations and business development at the Chalfont-based company, they had worked together on another start-up from 1996 to 2003. That company, Vivid Technology, also in Chalfont, developed video-on-demand systems and later merged with Concurrent Computer.

In 2008, Allegrezza's brother Jack had customized a Mac computer for their mother, who was 80 at the time and had just moved into an assisted-living apartment, her speech impaired by a stroke and her eyesight diminished by macular degeneration. The computer was equipped to automatically answer Skype calls and display a slide show of loaded pictures.

"I have seven brothers and sisters . . . they could all call in and talk to Mom on the videophone, and we could update pictures for her," said Allegrezza, 53, of New Britain.

The seeds for Telikin were planted. "We thought, 'Gee, maybe there's room for a product of this sort,' " he said.

Among those who agree is Tobey Dichter, who, as founder of the Philadelphia nonprofit group Generations on Line, has been working with seniors for more than a decade to reduce the intimidation factor that discourages so many from venturing onto the Internet.

"I am shocked and surprised that the lack of usage among elders really hasn't changed that much," Dichter said. "If you take the same people who weren't on when they were 65 . . . they're still not on."

Though overall, some progress has been documented. In 2000, the year Generations on Line was formed, an estimated 13 percent of Americans over 65 had Internet access, Dichter said, citing a study by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Pew found that number was up to 42 percent by May of this year, she said.

Remaining reluctant adapters, however, are those in their 70s.

"People in their 70s are just still intimidated for the most part," Dichter said.

That was a key consideration in the first step toward development of Telikin, Allegrezza noted: identifying a "simpler subset of functions."

"One of the things people get a little confused about with computers is overlapping windows" and finding things, he said.

Listed along the left side of Telikin's home screen are links to functions its developers have identified as the most popular for their targeted age group, those 65 and older: video chat, e-mail, photos, calendar, contacts, weather, and games.

The touch-screen feature, Allegrezza said, is in recognition of the limitations some older adults have - stiffness and tremors, for example - that make typing on a traditional keyboard and maneuvering a mouse difficult.

Product development has been financed with $1.5 million from Telikin's founders and $1.7 million from local investors. Telikin started beta testing a year ago, largely with people who were not computer-savvy.

"You would see them sitting here, one would be intimidated to touch the screen," Allegrezza said. "What was neat to see was, as they get comfortable, they use more and more features."

To his company of 24, Allegrezza said, he expects to add as many as 36 employees by the end of March.

Ken McCarter is part of a division where patience is mandatory - customer support. He recalled one caller who was reluctant to try out the video-chat option with him "because she didn't have her hair done."

And there was the novice who could not understand why the cursor was going the opposite direction from the way he moved the mouse.

"It took us 20 minutes to convince the guy he was holding the mouse upside down," Allegrezza said.

Carol Ann Davis, 65, of North Wales, one of Telikin's test group and now an owner of the computer, said that she liked the ease of the touch screen and that all the icons she needed were in one dependable place.

She also likes keeping up on Facebook with her grandson, Chandler Davis, who lives a six-hour drive away in Virginia.

"He doesn't do e-mail - at least not to me, anyway," she said chuckling. "He's 11."


Diane Mastrull:

Find out more about Telikin,

a computer that is aimed

at the AARP generation at

www.philly.com/business


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com,

or @mastrud on Twitter.

 

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