Gadgets for both genders

Where women's gadgets are concerned, it sometimes feels as though female emancipation never happened...

According to a recent survey by Sony Ericsson, women spend an average of £478 per year on technology compared to just £74 on shoes, and yet manufacturers seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that what women want are pink gizmos covered in sparkly bits.

Not even the most serious technological kit is immune from this Barbie-fication, with everything from sat-nav systems, mobile phones and DAB radios to games consoles available in a variety of blush tones. This patronising approach is largely out of kilter with the reality of what women expect from their tech.

"While cutesy pink products will always appeal to some women, manufacturers who want to gain a large female audience are far better off creating something that has mass appeal, for both the sexes," says Katie Lee, editor-in-chief of the blog Shiny Shiny ( shinyshiny.tv), the "girl's guide to gadgets".

Charlie Morgan, head of PR at gadget site Firebox.com, agrees: "When we launched seven years ago, our customer base was split around 90 per cent men to 10 per cent women. But since then, the number of women buying our products has risen to 40 per cent, with the majority buying for themselves. And it's not just pink and fluffy gadgets women want to buy, either - products have to have great design, and good functionality, and usability plays an important role."

Clearly, though, there must be some demand for a girly feel: Nokia has launched two handsets (the 6111 and 6230i) emblazoned with Cath Kidston prints, while Samsung offered a plum-purple S400i model with lip gloss attached - Woolworths says this was its best-selling phone last Christmas, shifting almost 30,000 handsets.

The firm reports a burgeoning interest in pink gadgetry across its ranges - 12 times as many pink PlayStation 2s were sold as black models, while eight times as many pink 15in LCD screens were sold as the silver version.

Pink PlayStations and mobile phones with detachable make-up are most likely designed to suit women (or girls) of a certain age; and while a teenager might feel happy yakking away on a pink mobile adorned with teddy charms, a fortysomething businesswoman would not be quite so keen.

It comes down to a couple of fundamental errors, says Katie Lee: "Often, firms make two mistakes: thinking women are vastly different in their tastes from men, when the iPod shows that both appreciate well designed, simple stuff; and thinking all women are the same, which leads to those pink, crystal-studded gadgets."

There are still many designs that appeal to women in terms of form and function, but which don't conform to a perceived feminine standard. "The BlackBerry is a great example," says Lee. "It's hugely popular with women, but it isn't particularly fashionable or tiny; it simply functions well."

Where the battle for women's hearts, minds and hard-earned cash is really won and lost is in the handbag. Gadgets have to compete for space with bulging make-up bags and bulky novels.

Size matters - women want their tech to be slim, lightweight and unobtrusive, rather than to colour-coordinate precisely with a new outfit. That's why the iPod nano and LG's Chocolate phone are so popular with women - they're dinky, they look good and you don't need a PhD to make them work.

Customisation is also key - rather than serving as the default choice, pink should be just one colour in the range of removable skins and cases available. "More choice is the key in terms of styles," explains Lee.

"Hopefully in the future there will be less pandering to 'only men' or 'only women' and just good designs that are lighter, thinner and more portable."

Anna Berry, who works on John Lewis's technology range, agrees. "Women are more discerning about what they want," she says. "They don't necessarily want the latest and highest spec, but want to feel confident they have made the right purchase to suit their needs.

Style and colour is important, and if the choice is there, they want it to reflect their personal style."

It seems the future for women and gadgets is definitely bright - it's just not necessarily pink.