What can apps tell us about gender stereotypes? A lot, actually.
The ePad Femme is an Android tablet that has a certain pride in the obviousness of its limitations, hoping they will make the device more appealing to women by stripping away all the functionality that might put them off.
The default screen features a stunningly narrow number of apps drawn from the gender stereotypes about women's interests that seem to have been retrieved from the days of 1950s social propaganda. There are apps for perfume, shopping lists, recipes, yoga, and a clothing size converter. The layout is designed to simplify what manufacturer Eurostar claims are the difficulties of downloading new apps by pre-tailoring it around the specific set of needs of a woman overwhelmed by skirt sizes in all the countries she is whisking off to for yoga retreats.
Such narrowness seems to go against the idea of a tablet as a multipurpose device, which lures users with its potential to make everything doable in any place and time. There is no shortage of narrow-use touchscreen devices in the world, from portable game consoles to the automated ticket kiosks at movie theaters.
One of the unexpected pleasures of technology is the ability to simulate identities for ourselves out of consumption alone.
Yet what seems to offend is ePad Femme's attribution of its limits to femininity. It is as bizarre as if movie theaters used two lines based on gender, with the women's line leading to a ticket counter with an actual person based on the presumption that females are more social, while the hyper-rational, machine-loving men's line leading to a computer terminal. The ideas are familiar but it's alarming to think someone might use them as the basis for anything real.
Part of the power of pervasive gender stereotypes is that we choose them for ourselves. Mobile phone users are evenly split between male and female and yet there are all sorts of data points that suggest men and women use the devices in different ways. Writing in Wired, Christina Bonnington cites Flurry Analytics data that shows men are significantly more likely to download apps and games with sports or automotive content, while women seek out catalog apps like Coffee Table and Catalog Spree. Women were also more likely to download health- and fitness-related apps, while men were significantly more likely to load up on finance, business, and news.
One of the unexpected pleasures of technology is the ability to simulate identities for ourselves out of consumption alone. Yet, we tend to prefer technologies to seem as neutral as possible, hiding their limitations in carefully coercive options lists, hoping users won't want to adjust something not meant to be adjusted. We don’t want stereotypes to be false, we just want to come to them through our own choosing.