Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Women and phones (again)...

I've tried before, in various circles, prompted by Tom Peter's obsession with the topic, to ask the question "is there a women's phone?" I don't mean one with flowers on, though apparently that might work, so think Siemens with their SL75:

"Soft contours and a cheerful floral motif lend femininity to this clamshell-style mobile phone."

(Then again, Siemens lose 1 million a day in their handset business.)

A similar question is being asked in computer games circles, where the dominant market has been young men who like shooting, racing and stealing things. In a recent games convention, the keynote speaker said that to be as big as Hollywood, the games industry had to ape Hollywood and cater for a wider audience, including women.

But, he (not a she) didn't say what designing games for women might mean. There's not much about the subject either in Tom Peter's latest book about design.

What I did find recently, by accident, was this interesting piece by games designer Chris Crawford, who, by all accounts, is a bit of a gamer legend. One suggestion is that women prefer interactions that are fundamentally social, as opposed to men's preferences for physical, like banging, firing, steering things etc.

The social interaction idea really got me thinking, and then I also read Artists and Technologists, which is also a fascinating read, and I think relates to the topic in hand. Here, Chris examines some of the fundamentals of interactivity with computer-generated worlds. He notes that most games require the user to build a spatial model of what's going on, and comments:

"Folks, we've got to drop this maniacal obsession with spatial reasoning. The human mind is capable of many kinds of reasoning: spatial, social, linguistic, syllogistic, analogistic, aesthetic, and numeric. There is no reason for our games be so narrowly focussed.."

So, can we posit an alternative mode of interaction with the mobile phone that is different to our current mental models (whatever they are) and one that is inherently feminine? Moreover, is that a good thing to do anyway, and would also appeal to a wider audience?

In a chapter "The future of Mobiles in the 3G Era" that I recently wrote for a forthcoming book ("Thumb Culture"), I divided mobile interaction into four themes (verbs), "The four Cs of Connectedness", which are communicating, consuming, communing and controlling. I didn't think to explore the gender-potential of each theme, which may or may not be a valid thing to do, but perhaps I should revisit my thoughts here.

The dominant interaction model of a mobile phone relates to communication, mostly talking. In my chapter, I suggest that the essential person-to-person (P2P) nature of mobiles will remain a dominant overarching theme, but we need to think in more broad terms of a super-category of personal Exchange. We ought to be thinking of models of interaction that are are about exchange - of ideas, contacts, thoughts, tastes, news, money, lists, preferences, opinions, interests, intelligence, intentions, and knowledge and so on, whatever digital form these take.

Communing is essentially an outcome that emerges out of these modes of exchange, although there are certain design directions that we can take to make communing more likely to happen.

The point is this. Just like Chris is arguing for a rethink in the games world, we need to think of alternative modes of interaction that draw on other faculties of the human psyche, besides the need to talk. Chris implies that the interaction verbs are a place to start. If we give users a joystick, they are limited from the outset to very narrow set of expressions - "up", "down", "left", "right" and "fire".

Is he onto something here? From the outset, we have modelled mobiles on the age old interaction of "receiver up" (green button), "receiver down" (red button) and "dial" (digits). Now we have joypads on phones too. We can use them to go "up", "down", "left", "right" and "fire".

Operators seem to have an even narrower set of expressions: "call" or "data". What's that? It isn't even a verb. Can we do "data"?

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