The reluctance to abandon design that suits only the largest male hands seems endemic. I remember a time back in the early 2000s when it was the smallest handsets that were winning phone-measuring contests. That all changed with the advent of the iPhone and its pretenders. Suddenly it was all about the size of your screen, and bigger was definitely better. The average smartphone is now 5.5 inches, and while we’re admittedly all extremely impressed by the size of your screen, it’s a slightly different matter when it comes to fitting into half the population’s hands (not to mention minuscule or non-existent pockets). The average man can fairly comfortably use his device one-handed – but the average woman’s hand is not much bigger than the handset itself. This is obviously annoying – and foolish for a company like Apple, given that research shows women are more likely to own an iPhone than men.
But don’t expect to uncover a method to their madness any time soon, because it’s extraordinarily difficult to get any smartphone company to comment on their massive-screen fixation. In desperation for answers I turned to the Guardian’s tech reporter Alex Hern. But he couldn’t help me either. ‘It’s a noted issue,’ he confirmed, but ‘one I’ve never got a straight answer on.’ Speaking to people informally, he said, the ‘standard response’ was that phones were no longer designed for one-handed use. He’s also been told that actually many women opt for larger phones, a trend that was ‘usually attributed to handbags’. And look, handbags are all well and good, but one of the reasons women carry them in the first place is because our clothes lack adequate pockets. So designing phones to be handbag-friendly rather than pocket-friendly feels like adding injury (more on this later) to insult. In any case, it’s rather odd to claim that phones are designed for women to carry in their handbags when so many passive-tracking apps clearly assume your phone will be either in your hands or in your pockets at all times, rather than sitting in your handbag on your office desk.
Flipping pockets!!! That's another issue someone should solve. :I
But anyway, back to phone design:
I next turned to award-winning tech journalist and author James Ball, who has another theory for why the big-screen fixation persists: because the received wisdom is that men drive high-end smartphone purchases, women in fact don’t figure in the equation at all. If this is true it’s certainly an odd approach for Apple to take given the research about women being more likely to own iPhones. But I have another, more fundamental complaint with this analysis, because it again suggests that the problem is with women, rather than male-biased design. In other words: if women aren’t driving high-end smartphone purchases is it because women aren’t interested in smartphones, or could it be because smartphones are designed without women in mind? On the bright side, however, Ball reassured me that screens probably wouldn’t be getting any bigger because ‘they’ve hit the limit of men’s hand size’.