Women to Apple: bigger isn't always better

Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor

Apple's Sept. 12 reveal of its new XS Max — the company's largest phone yet — generated excitement in the tech world. That was predictable.

The less predictable response? Exasperation.

The day after the phone's release, a Twitter thread from well-known techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci had tech scholars asking: Is the XS Max too big for women's hands?

"'We want to reach as many customers as we can with this incredible technology,' Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller said, without irony, while Apple phased out the only phone I can hold without risking dropping. Stuck with Apple for security reasons," tweeted Tufekci on Sept. 13.

Feminists and media scholars from around the world immediately jumped into the discussion, and most agreed with Tufekci. "It’s so painful to experience @apple’s descent from making technology people love to making technology which they feel held hostage by on account of the sheer irresponsibility of other options. Just give me a human sized phone... please," tweeted Chris Peterson, an information researcher at MIT, in response to Tufekci.

The XS and XS Max are Apple's new flagship devices; Apple is discontinuing their predecessor, the iPhone X, only a year after its announcement and 10 months after it went on sale.

"Women like me with small hands who need the most secure phone for safety reasons are stuck with something they can't hold and constantly risk dropping," continued Tufekci's Twitter thread. "[Apple] could even — gasp — introduce a newer small phone. Take away whatever bells and whistles you want. Androids aren't safe or secure, and the only maybe feasible alternative, Google Pixel, is also too big... Given my line of work, I simply cannot use Android phones.... I'm stuck with discomfort, inconvenience and replacing screens."

The average women's hand size (6.9 inches) is a full inch smaller than the average men's hand size (7.9 inches), and a very small percentage of women have larger hand sizes than the male average. The numbers back Tufekci up: the XS and the XS Max, at 5.8 inches and 6.5 inches respectively, fit larger hands much more comfortably.

Of course, too-big phones are only a symptom of the real problem: Apple doesn't design for women.

Often, when we think of designing 'for women,' we think of products marketed specifically to women, as a special demographic. But as the iPhone XS highlights, products designed for 'everyone' are too often just designed for men.

Apple's product design and branding is legendary. But if their design leaves out women — half of all people — is it really good design?

Last year, when Apple's new headquarters opened, commentators noted the glaring lack of any childcare options in a $5 billion campus that includes seven cafes, a 100,000 square foot fitness facility, 600 electric car charging stations, and a visitor center selling exclusive Apple merchandise.

"Every molecule of the campus was designed within an inch of its life. They designed the door handles, the specific angle of the windows, the goddamn pizza boxes," explained tech writer Cassie Murdoch when the center was unveiled in May 2017. "They didn’t forget to put a daycare in, they just didn’t want one."

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party in the U.K., told The Telegraph, "Apple's UK Headquarters has a gender pay gap of 24 per cent, and men's bonuses are 57 per cent higher than women's. So do I think the boys at the top consider women when making design decisions? No I don't."

"The boys at Apple are obviously obsessed with size but sometimes performance matters too."