Smartphones Are Made for Giant Man-Hands

Illustration for article titled Smartphones Are Made for Giant Man-Hands

About a month and a half ago, after years of relentless Blackberry mockery from my plugged in coworkers, I did something pretty out of my typically Luddite character: I bought a smartphone. And so far, I like it just fine. I can listen to Spotify on my phone now, which is nice. And the picture quality is much better than my old phone's. The biggest problem? My phone was clearly designed for someone with hands much, much bigger than mine. And I'm not the only woman with this problem.


I'm lucky that my biggest problem with my new phone is that I have to hold it with two hands when I Instagram pictures of interesting graffiti in Bushwick; for some women who are actually documenting important shit, this is a real problem. Take Zeynep Tufekci, for example. Writing for Medium, she explains that big phones are a big problem for women trying to record real shit like police brutality, war, and civil unrest.

Tufekci found herself in a peaceful public park in Istanbul last June, under a cloud of tear gas, and attempted to pull out her phone to record what was happening. But her phone was too big for her to photograph what was happening with one hand, and she was too short to see over the crowd. In her words,

I cursed the gendered nature of tech design that has written out women from the group of legitimate users of phones as portable devices to be used on-the-go.

I cursed that what was taken for granted by the male designers and male users of modern phones was simply not available to me.

I cursed that I could not effectively document how large numbers of ordinary people had come to visit a park were being massively tear-gassed because I simply could not take a one-handed picture.

I especially cursed that I could not lift the camera above my head, hold it steadily *and* take a picture—something I had seen countless men with larger hands do all the time.

It's not just annoying and inconvenient; man hand-designed phones are actually interfering with women's ability to be journalists.

And, as Tufekci notes, it's getting worse. Phones are getting thinner, but they're also bigger, designed for paddle like palms of men who have no problem typing and photographing one-handed. She suggests some variances in phone size to account for variances in person size. But until tech companies make a concerted effort to involve women, we're stuck with unwieldy, expensive two-handed cameras that are constantly threatening to squirt out of our hands and onto subway tracks like bars of wet soap.



Ari Schwartz: Dark Lord of the Snark

Oh man, so I've worked in wireless for about 5 years now and I've been observing this trend now since 2008 and the "screen wars" in the 2010s.

I believe that a good portion of this has to do with the fact that Android has been, as recently as the early 2010s, predominantly focused on the male market:

More recent stats suggest that this is a fairly steady distribution:

This is somewhat of a positive feedback loop because the market is mainly male, you get largely male-dominated ads like this one:

There's an argument that Apple has approached the female market more effectively. Note the heavy use of "usability and use case" in this ad:

There's even an argument to be made that iOS 7, with its brighter colors and softer lines, full acknowledges the female market and embraces them (if you believe that women are attracted to brighter/softer colors in an OS. My anecdata suggests it's true...)

Android has also arguably moved to capture more of that market with the new version:

But until recently, Android OS was far darker, machine-like:

So there's the OS side.

The hardware side? Apple has steadfastly held to a smaller form factor stating that the phone is the "correct size." I've taken that to mean that they are trying to capture use cases for as much of the market as possible. Android makers, however, are competing for a more fickle and technologically driven market (some caveats apply, but there is a lot of competition to have the best stats in Androidville) and therefore are concerned with having the biggest, fastest, and best hardware possible. The female market is not large enough to concern them with regards to the flagship devices.

I'm sure someone will tell me I'm wrong, but these are my observations after half a decade in the industry and observing the trends, working with many of the device makers directly, and reading a ton of the market research on a regular basis. Yes. I just appealed to my own authority. Whatevs, it's Friday and I do what I want.