The February 12, 2013 launch by a Dubai-based consumer electronics company of a tablet it calls “the ePad Femme” has been greeted with sarcasm and groans, if not condemnation by women and men. But instead of staying with the first knee-jerk reaction, let’s analyze the issues.
The Android tablet, says the company EUROSTAR, is pre-loaded with a plethora of applications such as yoga, fitness, cooking, recipes, health, a clothing size converter, as well as apps for finding movies and other forms of entertainment. [Mr.] Raju Jethwani, the corporate chairman, was quoted as saying: “The new ePad Femme Tablet is catered to women who may have many diverse interests and will seamlessly fit into their lifestyle. We are especially enthusiastic about the wide ranging applications and utility this tablet will offer to women.”
Apparently without irony, the writer for jazarah, a website for Middle-Eastern-based advertising/marketing/media enthusiasts, called it the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.
Eurostar’s associate vice president of marketing Mani Nair told the Jerusalem Post the tablet “makes a perfect gadget for a woman who might find difficulties in terms of downloading these applications and it is a quick reference.” Nair denied any sexist intent in choosing the applications.
One critic described the ePad Femme as sexist and patronizing—as implying that the gadget implies that women cannot download the apps they want. Casey Johnston of Ars Technica wrote, with undenied sarcasm: “At long last, a company has designed a tablet fit for the use of an entire gender that has, thus far, apparently gone unserved…. Thank the heavens, ladies may never trouble their pretty heads with such difficulties as finding and downloading their own apps ever again.” Gary Cutlack criticized its chauvinistic selection as well.
Among the ironies: several posts about the ePad Femme heard references to women’s sanitary products—without remarking that the same thing was said about the iPad when it was first launched.
The more important question is whether this will be popular with the intended market. Or not. “Given the number of affordable, gender-neutral, and yet still user-friendly tablets available,” Johnston expressed no surprise that the tablet has yet to be a big seller. But it’s young. And the fact is, product differentiation is the name of the game. There is plenty of differentiation in clothes, jewelry, or beauty products—often marketed with a “pink” theme. Some people like them and buy them and use them. And some people don’t.
Presumably Eurostar conducted some focus group testing. I’d like to know whether women really did work on this project—from the inside, as paid engineers, designers, and so forth. Maybe it will be a total flop. Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi feminist blogger told The Media Line column for the Jerusalem Post, “Whoever made this Tablet doesn’t understand us very well.”
It’s also worth noting that a Japanese manufacturer added a Ultrabook aimed at Asian Pacific women; available in several colors, Fujitsu’s light-weight laptop features zirconia ornaments and a pearlized power button.
Johnston already objected to the pinkification of gadgets, with their sexist marketing and targeting, and sees the ePad Femme as extending “this sorry tradition.” I, too, first reacted with a cringe. We’d like to see more purple products, but fewer pink products and fewer blue ones.
Still, the issue is getting a range of products serving different people’s different needs. No one says women can’t remove the apps they don’t like or want. Meanwhile, the wi-fi enabled and highly affordable (it costs $190) Femme Tablet is also pre-loaded with Google Talk, Android Market, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube, Gmail, a dictionary, and an encyclopedia. Any user can choose to tinker with it. And perhaps this will not be the last tablet the women will ever buy (or be given): they will see what technology can do, having learned with the tablet’s simplified user interface with big and clear icons, and go on to more sophisticated, more useful, less sexist, more “purple” products. In the meantime, it’s a choice.