Why The iPhone’s Success Has Women To Thank

Women are the hot new demographic to court in the social space (if you can call half the population a “demographic”), but the fairer sex is catching up when it comes to mobile, too, largely thanks to the iPhone. But is Apple’s gender-blind wunderkind truly more popular with women – or is Android, the iPhone’s defacto rival, just less popular?

With 65% of the U.S. population projected to own a smartphone or tablet by 2015, it’s safe to say that the gender differences in mobile are dissolving fast. Women are among the most explosive demographic segments for smartphone ownership, seeing a 13% spike between May 2011 and February 2012. Early adopters still skew male, but these days, the smartphone isn’t a bleeding-edge accessory so much as the gateway gadget for a new cohort of technophobes turned technophile.

It’s no Pinterest, but according to data from now Google-owned Admob, iPhone users were split pretty evenly along gender lines in February of 2010, with women accounting for 43% of iPhone owners. As for Android, that number was at 27% – less than a third.  In 2011, a survey of 15,818 Hunch users found that iOS users are more likely to be female, while Android users still trend male. But why?

The Axe-Like Scent of Android’s Dudedom

The iPhone’s adoption stats break down much more closely in parallel with the population as a whole: 43% female versus 57% male. At its core, the mobile gender divide might have more to do with that apparently not-so-androgynous little green robot – because guys like robots, right?
Of course they do; just ask Verizon back in 2009.

From fighter jets to dusty cowboys to something pretty closely resembling the Eye of Sauron, it’s no secret that Verizon’s Droid Does ad campaign – which cost $100 million in 2009 alone – had a prototypically masculine bent. The campaign launched the original Motorola Droid and set Android as a platform on its trajectory to successful iPhone rivalhood.

And while the Verizon campaign was carrier-specific, it remained sticky enough that the other three not-so Big Red carriers never quite shook the Axe-like scent of Android’s inherent dudedom. The Droid Does campaign bolstered Google’s mobile platform with a strong identity early on, but it also alienated women from the get-go – a good explanation for that paltry 27% of female Android users. Launching a hyper-gendered advertising onslaught is going to leave a good half of the population out in the cold, no matter how you slice it.

T-Mobile – which remains the only U.S. carrier without the iPhone – put up a valiant effort to feminize its largely Android smartphone stable with magenta dress-wearing spokesperson-next-door “Carly,” but now the company is doubling back. Its latest rebranding campaign depicts ever-femmey Carly turning up her nose at a slew of pink dresses before peeling off on a magenta motorcycle in skintight leather. The slogan – “No More Mr. Nice Girl” – sends a clear (if irksomely stupid) message: Android is here to kick ass and take names, and women can get in on the ass-kicking, too.

That message is slightly refreshing, but, really, who cares? T-Mobile might be the magenta carrier, but beyond inventing a memorable mouthpiece for an otherwise oft-forgotten company, it’s difficult to imagine that Carly as an ultra-feminized (or edgy/androgynized) symbol is doing much of anything to woo women to the carrier or its hardware.

Of course, with a winning spokesmodel smile, Carly has universal sex appeal – but the mixed message is hard to parse. Are we supposed to be attracted to Carly? Is she supposed to take the edge off of those pesky intimidating Android devices? And if so, what of Carly 2.0? Could the campaign just invert the unforeseen consequence of Verizon’s strategy, alienating men instead?

Apple And the Path Less Gendered

Try as they might, carriers and manufacturers with ties to Android just can’t seem to crack the gender code – but they might just be trying too hard. For a look at what works, one need only turn to Apple, a company with a pedigree of pitch-perfect campaigns. From its iconic 1984 Super Bowl commercial to the frequently spoofed “I’m a Mac” ads, Apple’s advertising chops are the stuff of industry legend.

Apple’s recent iPhone spots not only run the gamut from sleek and simple to touchy-feely, but, smarter yet, they cast a wide demographic net. The company’s FaceTime spots feature cameos from hip young 20-somethings, moms and wrinkly grandfathers in equal measure. In true “it-just-works” fashion, its more product-centric flavor of ad revolves around what the iPhone can do, all cast against one of Apple’s minimalist white-space backdrops, of course.

Instead of wasting time divvying the population up into bite-sized demographic parcels (men with an interest in watching things be smashed, for instance) Apple appeals to some basic, very human needs. We’d all like a device that a) makes our lives easier and b) connects us to the people who matter.

All the while, we’ve got blunders like the HTC Rhyme, a truly ham-fisted gesture of marketing cluelessness intended to appeal to a woman’s particular mobile needs, whatever those are. Because apparently women love tacky pink casings, confounding LED dongles and mid-range specs… who knew? All of those female iPhone owners must just be settling for less.

How One Size Fits All – or Doesn’t

As a woman admittedly far more interested in mobile gadgets than your average Joe or Joanna, I return again and again to the fact that the iPhone might appeal to something far more basic in the female psyche – or the female anatomy, rather.

As a former iPhone 3G user who switched to Android two years ago, the first thing that struck me was the then-gorgeous 4.3″ screen. The second thing? How unwieldy it was. Cramming it into a jeans pocket of modest capacity proved awkward, and texting with my thumb remains an impossible feat of balance and dexterity. (I’ve been meaning to ask Carly her secret – where in that skintight leather does she manage to stash her phone?)

The original HTC EVO 4G is veritably bloated by today’s slim smartphone standards, but, with the exception of the iPhone, smartphone screens are getting bigger and bigger. With Android, the smaller-pawed among us keep coming up empty-handed when it comes to top-tier devices. The iPhone’s success with the female demographic proves that we’re just as interested in a flagship device as our male compadres – but ideally we’d like to fit the damned thing in our pockets.

From marketing to design, the iPhone proves that you don’t need to divide consumers along gender lines to conquer them. Appealing to essentials like form and function (rather than literal sound and fury, in the case of the Droid’s branding blitzkrieg) is a message that resonates widely.

Apple’s world might not offer the choice or openness of Android, but its one-size-fits-all approach continues to outfit the mobile masses. At the end of the day, just as Apple would have us believe, the iPhone is for everybody – and it sells like it, too. And, as it turns out, just about half of everybody is a woman.

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