Toys or Tools: What Do Women Want in a Gadget?

Wellness, Home Tools Could Attract Women

As an example, Stone said, she expected a new line of wellness products unveiled by Royal Phillips Electronics at CES last week to appeal to women. One product, Activa, is an MP3 player that sorts music by tempo and then matches music to a runner's pace.

She also said a new automated vacuum cleaner from Neato Robotics was another tool that might attract women. Last week, Evolution Robotics also introduced an automatic floor cleaner with women in mind.

Although women are attracted by function, Stone said they're also interested in form. Increasingly, she has seen manufacturers launch fashion partnerships and artist collaborations to create laptop shells, iPhone cases and more to appeal to women.

Fashion designer Vivien Tam continues to partner with Hewlett-Packard on special edition netbook computers and accessories and Monster Cable last week announced Tam will design a pair of limited edition headphones.

But the consumer electronics industry is also recognizing and integrating women's perspectives in other ways.

Spotlighting women's role as decision-maker, CES featured a "MommyTech" zone with family-oriented products as well as a series of panel discussions with women in the industry.

Female Engineers Introducing Changes

But in an industry historically dominated by men, some of the key changes are coming from the female engineers now responsible for creating new products.

Sonia Nematollah, a Ford engineer who worked on the company's new MyFord Touch cabin interface, said that an early version of the dashboard computer included a panel with scalloped, or concave, features to control temperature, volume and other instruments.

That design changed when female engineers realized that they couldn't operate the concave controls with long fingernails.

"I personally had longer nails and I couldn't use it," Nematollah said. "We worked with them and said, 'No, you either want flat surfaces … or we want features that would be convex so you could grab it,'" Nematollah said.

Nematollah also said that the passive entry and passive start features that let drivers open and drive cars without inserting keys into locks or ignition were initiated by female engineers who knew what it was like to walk up to a car, arms full of groceries and children in tow.

Although these details are seemingly minor and not necessarily technological in nature, they go a long way in terms of how women are able to interact with and accept the technology.

And, ultimately, industry experts say, the companies that create unisex products by considering the small details associated with the respective habits, preferences and priorities of both sexes will be the ones to thrive.

"A lot of companies -- and I think the smarter ones -- are working on making products that appeal to both sexes," said CNET's Turrentine.

"That's a really smart move if you can get a couple of products that are so elegant and attractive to everyone. That's a really good move but I would say it varies from company to company."

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