Did you know the average circumference of a woman’s hand is about 1 to 2 inches smaller than the average man’s? Actually, does Silicon Valley know?
Digital Trends sat down with TED talk host and author Caroline Criado Perez, who wrote the book Invisible Women, to talk about data bias in a world designed for men. In the book, she argues that the problem of gender bias in tech design is systemic. “Most of the people who’ve been designing the phones are men, so they’ve been designing for the male hand size.”
Examples abound. Flagship smartphones like the iPhone 12 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra are just too big for most women (and some men) to use one-handed. The original iPhone in 2007 was considered huge for its time, with a massive 3.5-inch screen, and has grown steadily over the past decade with plus and max models pushing size boundaries. Now it’s hard to find a premium phone with a screen smaller than 6 inches. Ultra and Pro models with all the best features are even larger.
Of course, manufacturers do also offer smaller sizes in addition to their flagship behemoths, but they’re often less powerful. “I don’t want to get the smaller one because it’s not as good,” Criado Perez told Digital Trends. “I want good tech the same way a guy does. I want to be able to hold it and not have to put [an accessory] on it just so I can hold my phone.”
The newly announced Apple iPhone 12 Mini sports features on par with the iPhone 12. That’s another step in the right direction, but it still leaves users drooling over the iPhone 12 Pro’s premium features.
The big, broad world of bias
Inequity in design isn’t just limited to smartphones, either. In 2014, Apple launched its “comprehensive” health tracker app. This allowed people to track nearly everything from daily movement and exercise, to molybdenum and copper intake. Copper intake! Yet, despite including such niche tracking abilities, Apple failed to include something that would’ve arguably been far more useful for about half of its customers: Period tracking.
“It just forgot periods existed,” Criado Perez says. “Why’s that? There weren’t enough people who had periods on the design team.”
These kinds of issues extend well beyond Apple, and also beyond gender-related design. Another example of unconscious bias baked into technology is facial recognition. Many modern mobile phones offer facial recognition as a way to unlock your phone and verify your identity — but due to certain design and testing flaws, the algorithms that underpin these systems often have trouble recognizing faces with darker skin tones.
Clearly, there’s still a huge amount of work to be done in order to fix these systemic issues — but the good news is that some forward-thinking CEOs are finally starting to do something about it.
This is episode 1 of Created Unequal: When tech misses the mark, where we talk about ways the tech industry dropped the ball on being completely inclusive.