Wireless Systems Design

Women And Wireless: How To Get Them Together

The obvious boons of portability, ease of connectivity, and information-transfer speed make wireless a clear winner over carting around the old blue LAN or dial-up cables and an antiquated laptop. But when you ask people what wireless entails, most respondents will tell you about mobile-phone systems and personal digital assistants (PDAs). For this reason, the statistics coming out about women and wireless technologies are a little deceiving. Women in Europe, for instance, regard wireless technology as a positive factor in keeping in touch with family and clients. But for the most part, SMS and Instant-Messaging services are cited as the wireless applications used by women.

A recent Siemens study was headlined "3G Appeals To Women" (www.enn.ie/news.html?code=9383619). From the results of the research, however, it's clear that SMS capacity is nominated as the killer application for women. Yet the primary appeal of 3G is for web browsing and e-mail. Women, it seems, are more interested in communicating than in content. This theme has been explored by Internet guru Douglas Rushkoff, who argues that content will never be king in the wireless world for women or men. It's contact that matters.

For women to adopt wireless technologies readily, consumer-electronics companies should emphasize contact and communication features. Somewhat embarrassingly, the Samsung T500 and other "women's mobiles" are instead focusing on visual appeal and "feminine extras" (such as the mirror; cubic-zirconia-encrusted casing; biorhythm readings; and pregnancy scheduler built into the T500 phone). While these extras may close the sale, it's the fact that the phone can do SMS and make calls that matters to the women who adopt these technologies. Indeed, while there is a tendency among advertising for wireless technologies to be too focused on images of the masculine, some women may regard products like the T500 as demeaning tokenism.

Perhaps more positive initiatives of women and technology are sites like Cybergrrl (www.cybergrrl.com) and Australia's Geekgrrl (www.geekgrrl.com.au). While fashion conscious, these sites are resources for women who regard themselves as participants—rather than aberrations—of the information society. They positively reinforce technology use while providing information about specifications, software, communities, and programming. The goal of such sites is to inform users about functionality. Increasingly, there is a focus on wireless applications.

Naturally, community groups have emerged to discuss the issues arising from PDA usage. For wireless-technology enthusiasts, these communities provide the real value of such sites. As Rushkoff has noted, it's not the content or even the design that matters so much as the community that's been built on common ground. Again, it's the contact—the linkages and access to other users—that matters.

When it comes to driving wireless adoption among women, however, initiatives like web sites and mobile phones will only provide limited motivation. As a rule, women are less interested in the design specifications of wireless technologies. They are more interested in the cost benefits that the technologies will provide. Women are well aware of the fade of feminine extras. They'll select a device or use a wireless resource that includes extras only if the basic functionality of the initiative meets their needs for information access.

While wireless technology may be fabulous, it's not really doing anything new. If you're using a laptop, you may need one less cable. But for prolonged use, you still need power. If wireless simply means mobile telephony, SMS and plain old voice communications will drive adoption among women. In reality, the device that's used to access wireless connectivity isn't so critical. The industry needs to provide reliable access to a wireless network before women will be convinced that wireless is all it's unwired-up to be.

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