Mrs. Jobs' Smartphone
Sep 17, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Last week at Intel's Developer Forum, I was on a panel of folks -- led by renowned futurist Briand David Johnson -- who are trying to make sure future products are better at taking into account the people they are designed for.
This purpose was connected to one of the major points made by Dr. Genevieve Bell: that we should take the trouble to understand what assumptions were made by the designers of a product we intend to buy. She told a troubling story about how many Canadian drivers think U.S. car makers want to kill them, because they buy cars designed for U.S. men.
If you look at the new iPhone, it was clearly designed with a person in mind -- which can be an issue with a one-size-fits-all company -- and I'm willing to bet that person isn't you, and that it might be Steve Jobs' wife.
I'll close with an accessory that you can use with your smartphone or small camera to put yourself back in your pictures.
Canadian Driver Example
The example Dr. Bell cited: U.S. car makers had to assume drivers likely weren't wearing their seatbelts and were 180-pluls pounds in weight. The result was an aggressive airbag system that had to stop an untethered, large body. Canadians tend to be lighter and their seatbelt laws are more rigorous, so they are buckled up. The end result is that when an air bag goes off, it tends to hit Canadians far harder and generally breaks noses or causes more extreme facial damage. (I expect the same thing actually happens to the U.S. driver without a seatbelt, but we explain it away by saying it resulted because they weren't properly restrained.)
Her point was that if Canadians -- and women, come to think of it -- knew that U.S. cars were designed specifically for large men who didn't buckle up, they'd likely avoid those cars, forcing U.S. car makers to change their policy. It would also likely result in fewer broken noses and blackened eyes.
The lasting point in all of this is that if we took the time to understand for whom a product was built, we'd likely pick more products we liked and fewer we found disappointing.
There are three things that stand out as unique in the iPhone 5 that would appear to target a specific buyer. The screen is long and thin, favoring smaller hands. The case is "jewel like." While one of the most beautiful, it is also the most fragile -- very much like jewelry. Finally, the focus of the screen is on detail -- much like jewelry -- rather than on stunning color, as is the case with the raft of Super AMOLED screens.
If you look at the difference between a typical male and female buyer, you'll likely see that women have smaller hands, prefer things that are more delicate, and tend to be more interested in consistency. Guys like things that are big (size matters), they have larger hands, and trend to louder colors (ever seen a golf outfit?). In many cases, men wouldn't know fashion if it beat them over the head with a stick.
Now when it comes to age, adults typically take better care of things than children do, because kids generally don't understand the cost of replacement. Most seem to think that money appears magically and that the reason they don't have everything they want is that their parents have a mean streak.
Kids also have poor judgment, so giving them a screen phone that requires attention would undoubtedly increase their risk of injury -- particularly if they drive. Apple developers have kids, so had they used kids as a target -- either male or female -- they'd have likely created something far different. No responsible parent wants to put a child at an avoidable risk.
The end result is that the ideal buyer the iPhone 5 appears to be designed for is an older (30-plus), affluent woman. This doesn't mean that other buyers won't enjoy the phone -- but they might prefer a phone better designed for their own demographic. I expect a lot of parents would prefer their kids carry phones less likely to contribute to an accident than an iPhone.
Given Steve Jobs' recent passing, it isn't hard to imagine that Apple developers might have intentionally designed this iPhone to honor his widow. It is a nice thought -- though the influence also could have come from any woman on the design team or even someone's wife, girlfriend or partner.
Wrapping Up: I Want a Phone Built for a Man
The big takeaway for me is that if we spent more time figuring out our unique needs and priorities and then thought about what an ideal product set might look like, rather than just lining up for the latest "it" products, then we'd all likely make wiser decisions. I also think the result would be more products designed for unique sets of needs.
I'm as open minded as the next guy, but I'd prefer a phone built for a guy -- say like this Sony Xperia T that comes loaded with the James Bond movie Skyfall, or one of these Steampunk phones, or maybe this extreme smartphone that takes two SIMs and has a 5-inch screen that would even impress Tim the Tool Man Taylor. How about this Lenovo phone? It even has an Intel processor with hyperthreading and is built like a ThinkPad. Now that's a man's phone! Unfortunately, it is only sold in China.
I think if we took more time thinking through what we actually wanted rather than just falling in with the latest fad, we be happier with the result, and vendors would increasingly be encouraged to build products we would enjoy more.
I guess I should be upset that iPhones appear to be designed for women, but given that most cars seem to be designed for me, I think I can live with the tradeoff. My point is that we shouldn't have to.
Granted, when a male friend now shows up with his new iPhone, rather than being jealous, I can now ask if he got the matching purse. Damn, I love being an analyst!
Product of the Week: iVideoStick 3.6
Sometimes you run into something that is one of those ideas you wish you'd come up with. We are often in places solo where we'd like to add ourselves to a picture, yet our arms aren't long enough -- and if we are in motion, the end result is crap.
The iVideoStick 3.6 is an ingenious smartphone/small camera mount that moves the camera far enough away that you can put yourself back into the shot. Given the good camera on most phones is on the wrong side of the display, framing the shot with the right camera can be a little daunting. But for action videos (which can use the lower resolution display) or for pictures you want to share over email (where it's better to use the low resolution lens to reduce file size anyway), this thing is great.
I can imagine all of the solo hikes and adventures I've had over the years when I would have loved to have a picture record that actually showed I was there as opposed to empty landscapes or view shots anyone could have taken. Because this puts you in the picture, and because I wish I'd discovered it years earlier, the iVideoStick 3.6 (or smaller 2.4) is my product of the week.