Are iPhones from Mars and BlackBerrys from Venus?

Phones are designed for busy lives and different genders

When it comes to smart phone preferences, there are clear differences between the sexes, say market researchers and usability testers. And these differences have implications for the success the devices.

Researchers stress that gender is only one way that cell phone vendors differentiate their wares; age, for instance, is another. And the researchers also emphasize that, overall, men and women have the same capabilities. But that doesn't mean that, as a generalization, men and women like the same types of smart phones, they said.

We talked to researchers and some mobile industry types to get an idea about how the sexes vary in terms of their phone preferences and what features make one phone more attractive to men or women than another.

Equal but different

As with so many things, it's hard to know whether the differences between men and women's phone preferences have to do with innate capabilities or with the socialized differences between the sexes, the experts say. But the differences do exist, they stress.

"Men tend to be more tech-savvy, not because they know more, but because they report it that way." said Jessica Jourdan. She based her comments on what she has seen as a senior research scientist with Perceptive Sciences Corporation, a US-based consulting firm that tests devices such as smart phones for usability. "Women aren't less tech-savvy, just different," she said.

Women often can be more cautious when first handed a complex device like a smart phone, said Jourdan.

"At the beginning of our tests women will say they're more intimidated, but (in the end) they won't perform any differently," Jourdan said. "As a result they may be more thoughtful, they may read the instructions more carefully, where a man will just jump in and only read the instructions if he gets stuck. But at the end, women will tend to be more enthusiastic about the product, maybe because they've invested more in it."

Busy women, busy men

Michael Woodward, vice president for business mobility products at AT&T, said that, over time, even mobile phones used for business have, "cracked the door to our personal life." Our personal lives are busy, he stressed, and men and women are sometimes busy in different ways.

Sometimes, he said, women tend to be busier, particularly if they are managing their family's schedule in addition to their work lives, he added. As a result, the challenge in designing phones that women will appreciate is to keep the phones simple, he said. He noted that doesn't mean "dumbed-down" but, rather, simple as in "usable."

"Some women are busier than men. They don't have as much time to give to a learning curve," said researcher Jourdan. "If I'm a test subject in a lab I may have time to read the instructions, but if my three-year-old is jumping on me it might be different."

However, this type of simplicity of operation is often missing in smart phones. Excluding Apple's iPhone and BlackBerry devices, smart phones were the most returned consumer electronic gift of the 2007 holiday season. According to Opinion Research, 21 per cent of smart phone purchases were returned during that season.

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David DeJean

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