Are iPhones from Mars and BlackBerrys from Venus?

Phones are designed for busy lives and different genders

Smart phone as fashion statement

So which phones are more appealing to men and which are more appealing to women?

AT&T's Woodward said that, for business reasons, he didn't want to get specific. And, he noted that specific brands of smart phones don't seem to have special appeal to one sex or the other.

However, there are model-to-model differences when it comes to gender preferences, he said.

"Within the product lines of Microsoft Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and Palm devices I can find (devices) that sell more to women, and some that are more masculine. We see differences in the sex of the customer in terms of color and size."

He added that women have some requirements that men wouldn't normally think about.

"Women carry their phones in purses, where they bang around, so the finish needs to be durable. And it's dark in there when they look for their phone, so it helps if the device lights up, and when they reach in and touch it, it needs to feel different. That's why, for instance, our (Samsung) BlackJack has a leather panel on the back, to give that tactile feedback."

The shape of the phone doesn't seem to be a differentiator, Woodward said. Folders and candy bar phones sell equally well to men and women. But color has its Mars vs. Venus aspects:

"We start with black and silver because they look professional, but when we move beyond that, we see red and purple skewing to the feminine side, and white, as well. Men stay with navy blue."

Thomas Thornton, a senior researcher with Perceptive Sciences, agrees that style is increasing important, something that may reflect an increase in the number of women buying sophisticated phones.

"Women express more interest in the color of phones, in their style and making them coordinate with their settings," he said. "New phones are paying more attention to chicness, to finish. Part of the appeal of the iPhone is that it's so fashionable. As these devices become more stylish women will be more accepting."

This evolution of the smart phone as fashion statement still lags the evolution of technology, according to Jourdan.

"They've been adding this function and that function, but they'll become more acceptable to women as an evolution in aesthetics follows the evolution of functionality."

Age matters

Thornton said that age may have more to do with the adoption of advanced mobile devices than gender.

Older folks want a phone that's simple. Said Thornton: "Feature bloat degrades the overall functionality. They say, 'Can't you just give me a phone that does what I want, with a screen that I can see, and buttons I can push?' "

On the other hand, Thornton said, as the workforce gets younger, there will be more demand for different types of phones. Younger types, for instance, are more prone to want their phones to play music and other media, he noted.

In addition, Jourdan added that there's a significant generational difference in the complexity people can tolerate. The difference is caused by physical differences, motor coordination, and visual acuity. Put simply, younger people of either gender will tolerate more complexity, she said.

Multitasking in a busy world

Whether a phone is preferred by men and women, there are some basic design considerations that make smart phones easier to use, Jourdan and Thornton said. Here are a few of those guidelines based on their experience in the usability lab:

All the major functionality should be available from the main screen so that users are aware of the available services without reading or navigating a hierarchical file structure like the one common to personal computer operating systems.

A dedicated "escape" button should get the user back to the main screen from anywhere with a single click.

Icons should be large and labeled and given ample space on the main screen so that each is salient and clearly discernable from the others. Both Jourdan and Thornton expressed admiration for Apple's iPhone and its user interface that implements many of these ideas. Perceptive Sciences specifically conducted usability tests on three smart phones last September and found the iPhone scored extremely well."The iPhone is the most recent example of a smart phone that is easy enough to use straight out-of-the-box without much guidance," said Jourdan. "There is actually very little instruction shipped with the handset."

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David DeJean

Computerworld

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