Grandmother Communicator

A super simple communicator for my granny..

My grandmother is super awesome. She’s self-sufficient, is always quick to laugh and will turn 90 later this year. Unfortunately, (and I blame myself for this oversight) she hasn’t really kept up with technology. All her tech uses physical buttons. Landline phone, buttons. TV remote, buttons. Sub-optimal because all the cool communication technology lives within these glass faced touchy swipey rectangular prisms. Time to bring her up to speed with a special device..

So what does this device have to do?

  1. Support making and receiving WhatsApp video calls.
  2. Have a large enough screen (to compensate for eyesight) and loud speakers (to compensate for hearing) + headphone jack.
  3. Be super easy to use for someone learning to use a touch screen for the first time.

So iPads are out of the running pretty early. As is something like the GrandPad ($65, that’s like R1200 per month!). So it’ll have to be a heavily customized Android tablet…

So you’re telling me I get to play with Android again? (Photo Ref)

Yes! I get to turn back the clock to the good old days and do some hacky dacky Android tweaking once more.

Device Choice

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 (LTE) (64Gb with 4Gb RAM) ticked all the boxes:

Device settings

In the Settings App, I:

  1. Turned on Do Not Disturb, to make sure only incoming calls woke the device and made a sound.
  2. Enabled “Swipe from sides and bottom” to remove the buttons on the bottom of the screen and replace them with gestures.
  3. Disabled the Lock screen entirely, so waking the device takes you straight to the launcher.
  4. Enabled the “Protect battery” setting to limit charge to 85%. Hopefully this will save the battery while being continuously plugged in.

A new Launcher

I need a new launcher that can support heavy customization. Enter Nova:

Using Nova, I:

  1. Reduced the number of icons and increased their size
  2. Locked the Launcher so the layout can’t be changed
  3. Disabled the dock and hid the notification bar
  4. Removed all swipe gestures (Nova Launcher Prime needed to disable all)

This left me with a completely clean interface, with only icons on the screen:

Ahh, super minimal

Then to suppress the “app shortcuts” that come up when an icon is long pressed, I increased the “Touch and hold delay” to 10 seconds. This was helpful while she calibrated herself for the length of an actual touch on the screen. It can be found under Settings > Accessibility > Interaction and dexterity > Touch and hold delay.

I didn’t think I had OCD until I tried (and failed) to get exactly 10 seconds

Icons on the Launcher

I didn’t want her to have to go into the WhatsApp app at all, only interacting with it using icons on the launcher. Enter Tasker:

Using Tasker, I:

Created Tasks to WhatsApp video call her relevant contacts:

Added Task Shortcut Widgets to the Launcher:

And after adding all, this is what her home screen looks like:

Ignore the “Radio” icons (for now…)

Suppressing/Simplifying Interactions

Answering Calls

WhatsApp calls have different interactions based on whether the screen is locked or unlocked:



To have a consistent UI regardless of locked/unlocked state, Tasker comes to the rescue:

Using AutoNotification Intercept, the notification is tapped on, showing the full screen interaction whenever a call comes in.

And this is what it shows now when unlocked and a call comes in:

Now regardless of whether the device is locked/unlocked, the “Swipe up to accept” interaction is consistent. Because multiple notifications are thrown when a video call is coming in, it shows both the notification and the full screen interaction.

Post-Call Interactions

After a call, it should return to the launcher. However, there are two instances where WhatsApp pops up dialogs for user interaction:

When there’s an unknown caller:

And occasionally when WhatsApp asks to rate the call:

To Suppress the “unknown caller” popup, Tasker automatically taps “OK”:

I don’t have a solution yet to suppress the “rate call” because it’s occurrence is random so it’s hard to define the exact variables. Something to look at in the future!

Interacting with the Screen

As gestures are kinda tough for a newbie to touch screens, adding a simple passive stylus with a soft tip made it easier for her to tap and swipe. I took for granted just how accustomed most of us are to interacting with touch screens. Having her learn by initially holding her hand, performing the tap or swipe action and then repeating it to grow the required muscle memory was essential for success.

Replicating this for free

I paid for Nova Launcher Prime, Tasker, AutoInput and AutoNotification. However, you can do a fair bit without spending a cent:

Launcher Customization:

  • Most of the Nova Setup can be done for free, apart from suppressing the swipe up gesture to open the app list.

Direct Calling from Launcher:

Suppressing/Simplifying Interactions:

  • None of these can be done with a free app (that I know of).

Testing + Conclusion

It was definitely a fun challenge to take a “general purpose computing device” and turn it into more locked down, single-use-case appliance. Also, with my grandmother being the end user (unlike most projects where that’s me), I had to spend some time with her, watching her interact with the device so I could make usability tweaks. All the above changes were a culmination of me seeing her points of difficulty and compensating for them.

The Future

As she becomes more accustomed to the simple interactions I’ve provided, I want to add features and have her interact more with the device. Stay tuned for the next post in this series!

If you have any questions/would like to share your experience with simplifying devices for those not accustomed to technology, leave a reply below. To receive an email when I publish a post, subscribe here.


(Featured image remixed from this photo)

4 thoughts on “Grandmother Communicator

Add yours

  1. Kavi, the result of your project was great. I have communicated with your gran on this device and certainly worked a treat. The simplicity of your set up enabled her to make and receive video calls even though she had not previously used a mobile phone or tablet.
    It’s a great idea for older folks to keep in touch with family and friends anywhere in the world.

  2. This is really awesome Kavi! ????????????????????????
    I liked how you used Tasker for the unknown caller pop up.
    With the video calls, the camera angles tend to be tricky.
    Looking forward to the next part!

    1. Tasker is so incredibly powerful it’s crazy. It almost feels weird that an app is allowed to have this much power without root.

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