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Does Apple Have A “Female Problem”?

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No other company could have raised the anticipation bar as high and managed the PR tsunami as deftly as Apple did in the months leading up to the unveiling of the new iPad tablet.

But contrary to the stratospheric expectations, the iPad didn’t self-levitate, dispense cash, or heal the sick. Apple-watchers had their criticisms. Many called it nothing more than a “giant iPod Touch.” Personally, I was a little glad to read mixed reviews, given charges by some that major media – who might have much to gain by the iPad’s success – are incapable of covering it objectively.

Still, there’s no fan base as evangelical as Apple’s. Some began posting “I want it!” minutes after the most live-blogged product unveiling in history got underway. (Personally, I don’t agree with many of the objections. My disappointment was that AT&T is the sole data service provider. Not good.)

But, the masters of technology, design, and marketing may have stumbled a bit with the branding of the iPad. The most unexpectedly entertaining part of the announcement was the response to the name. While my first thought when I heard it was the potential for confusion with “iPod”  (particularly for Bostonians), to many people it connoted a kind of high-tech feminine hygiene product.

As Twitter users and message-board commenters piled on in the minutes and hours after the announcement, the one-liners were, um, flowing. Within moments, “iTampon” was a Twitter trending topic. By day’s end, bloggers posted an oddly prescient 2007 skit from Mad TV in which two female office mates share a confidential chat about a feminine protection product called – yep, the iPad. Blogs like adrants began to post the best jokes about the iPad branding.

So, does the iPad naming show that Apple has a…”female problem”? Many women bloggers questioned the decision, and some claim it shows a dearth of estrogen in Cupertino, at least where the marketing and branding decisions are made. “Do any women work at Apple?” was the theme of most posts.

Maybe it’s that the technology industry – with its CES booth babes and Silicon Valley geekpreneurs – is still a male-dominated one, both in numbers and in character. The typical early adopter is a man, and the way tech products are sold at retail reminds some women of the automotive industry. The tech-toy race is a stereotypically male preoccupation, and, despite women’s appreciation for technology, our default mindset is more practical than status-conscious.

Personally, though I might have favored “iTab” for a name, I think the period humor is way overblown. After all, the iPad comforms to the Apple product  nomenclature. And the word “pad” is used in scores of ways, including “notepad,” “mouse pad,” and “touch pad.”

The naming critics will lighten up, and the iPad will succeed or fail on its own merits. But, the iPad example shows that being gender-blind isn’t always a good thing. And, I’m willing to bet that, for the next big product branding, there’ll be plenty of women in the room.

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