Monday, February 4, 2008

You've Got Women, You've Got Women On Your MInd

Andy Marken sends along this interesting document discussing whether women are being served by computer companies. One of the things I love about this is that he uses Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman as his reference point. (Someone, somewhere, should be offended, I'm sure.)

Throughout the '80s and early '90s, the big question in the computer industry was "How do we get people who don't use computers to use computers?" I confess we always thought that was a kind of stupid question. But that's because we were coming from the heavy geek perspective. Sure we used e-mail and bulletin boards to create communities, but the technical bar on that was high enough to keep most people out.

And, by keeping most people out, it was safe to classify it as "nerdy".

This, in turn, kept more people out for fear of nerd-by-association. It was the GUI that lowered the bar for most, and the World Wide Web (itself a sort of GUI on top of the Internet) that provided the carrot.

True story: When a neighbor complained that she had to drive her son to the library for a research project, we asked her why she didn't just use the Internet. Her response, "You can look things up on the Internet? I thought it was just for shopping!"


The Wild West days of computing are over (sadly) and, as always happens, the womenfolk have moved in and civilized things.

Andy talks in terms of hardware and services, of course, and gets down to the nitty-gritty of demographics. Curiously, he doesn't mention the one computer company that women love: Apple.

Apple seems to have realized something few others have: Because hardware and software are mostly at a commodity level, whether you buy a PC from Dell or Fujitsu or Sony or use OpenOffice or that copy of Microsoft Office you got from work or send mail using Google, HotMail or Yahoo... None of it amounts to very much real world difference.

And so they focus on aesthetics. The iPod entered the market to derision. Why, it had less capacity and it cost more and you couldn't replace the battery.... All valid points, but MP3 players, like computers in the '80s, were geek devices. The iPod made them cool.

That they were going to do the same thing with the iPhone was obvious, though the ramifications haven't been fully felt. Apple isn't just serving women, they're angling to turn these markets into ones that are actually consumer-oriented.

As has been pointed out, the people who buy Microsoft's software are its resources, not its customers. Its customers are big companies who want MS to lock things down. Same with phones, to a degree.

But Apple appeals strongly to women, at least going back to those Mac commercials which compared the tangly jungle of wires on the back of the PC to the sleek clean look of the Mac. And more recently, with the Airbook--a thing of beauty which, like most of Apple's products sacrifices a degree of practicality and frugality, for a whole lot of aesthetics.

All this goes to suggesting that Marken is essentially correct: There are big bucks on the table, and from what I can see, only Apple is picking them up. (And this coming from a guy whose last piece of Apple hardware was 1979's classic Apple ][.)

Remember the iPod commercial that used this video? Mad TV parodied it. It's kind of funny. But the lament--that every time Apple comes out with a new iPod, one is required to purchase it--is a suggestion that Apple has achieved a kind of holy grail: Not only do people feel compelled to buy our products, they feel compelled to do so every time we make a change to them.

This is a place every industrialist must strive to be, don't you think?

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