Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple, you hardly knew me. Why the iPad naming fiasco matters.

So, we ladyfolk finally got our own viral internet giggle yesterday when Apple really did name its new tablet computer the iPad. "iTampon" quickly became a hot trending topic on Twitter.

Even as the "Mac's-i-Pad" period jokes continue, a little bit of a backlash has begun ("really from all the noise we should just call it the i-bitch,") and people are also asking will period jokes will hurt the iPad?

I think the iPad name is a major mis-step for Apple, but not just because it's embarrassingly funny. For me the iPad naming fiasco pulls back the curtain on Apple Computer's branding and marketing and reveals it as another Silicon Valley boy's club.

I say this as a devoted Apple user. I got my first computer as a college freshman back in 1986, a "Macintosh 512K enhanced." I was in one of the first college cohorts in which just about everybody had a personal computer. And yes, there was a day when you could put "512K" and "enhanced" together and it made sense. (Take that, Fanboys, I've been using a Mac since some of you were in diapers, or, egads, before you were born.) Over those 23 years I have personally bought at least a half dozen desktop Macs, four laptops, two iPhones, and more generations of iPods than I can keep track of. I run my whole Mojo Mom media empire, from book authorship, to blogging and podcasting, on a Mac.

And all the while Apple's branding made me feel like I was part of something, "I'm a Mac," after all. And with their intuitive, elegant design, as Apple brought new products to life that I hadn't even known that I needed, but now can't imagine living without, I felt like Apple knew me, too. But now with their naming choice of the iPad and all it's testosterone-fueled cluelessness, it became immediately more noticeable how overwhelmingly male Apple computer is. Can you name one woman associated with Apple, as an employee or its image? Watch Apple's own near-orgasmically-fawning video promoting their new gadget. It's eight minutes of male developers talking about how awesome the iPad is.

So then we get thinking about the iPad and wonder, "Were there any women involved in its design process? Its naming or marketing?" And reporting comes out, such as Business Week (via Jezebel) saying that "women account for 40 percent of gadget spending..." and the inconvenient fact that Apple doesn't have any women in its top corporate positions.

I have spent a lot of time in the tech world socially (my husband is a computer guy) and professionally, when I was a freelancer writing the parenting and technology blog for CNET in 2007 and 2008. I appreciated that opportunity and I thought I did bring a different perspective to the conversation. Unfortunately, my opinion was not always appreciated. I received a lot of nasty, hurtful comments. I had not how realized how radical it would be to bring a mom's-eye view perspective to the tech world. Many libertarian, male commenters seemed to instantly view me as the enemy, someone who represented the "nanny state" that clashed with their worldview. I should have realized what a culture clash I was walking into. It's a shame that a wider diversity of opinions are not represented and respected on tech websites, as I did report on some interesting stories that other journalists may have overlooked, some of which made it to the main front page of CNET. (I should say CNET was great to work with. And I know there were people who liked what I wrote, but they tended to email me directly rather than leave a public comment.)

So, just as we women have an uncomfortable relation with public displays of pads, perhaps all the brouhaha also has a connection with how women feel overlooked and excluded from the world of high tech. I had been pretty happy with the illusion that Apple knew me. But now, while they can still win me over with their products, my decades-long relationship with the Apple mystique has evaporated in a flash--surely not what the Apple marketing department was hoping to accomplish with their sexy new product release.

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Anonymous Jeanne said...

So I just told my husband this whole saga. I told him the name "iPad." He did not get it. Then when I told him what women immediately think of when they hear that word, he thought it was an overreaction. I could not convey to him the ickiness of the name! I think that this might be the issue that all women, regardless of political persuasion, can unite against!

6:11 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

I am with you, Jeanne!

6:20 PM  
Blogger Michael Tiemann said...

Well, as soon as Amy told *me* the name, I immediately knew what was coming next. Sure enough, I was right. When Apple is smart they are BRILLIANT. When they are dumb, they are BEYOND STUPID. It will be interesting to see whether they take the easy way out and quietly change the name in order to "satisfy" Fujitsu. If they had more spine, brains, or empathy they'd send an apology to feminist geeks everywhere, too.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Lori LeVar Pierce said...

What great points you make about Apple. I can just all those guys in a room thinking it's such a great name. Where was the market research??? If they actually did it, this will probably go down with New Coke as a classic market research flub-up.

Did you see this CNN report about the MadTV sketch about the iPad several years ago?

3:46 PM  

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