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IPhone still has that fingernail problem

Some women want a stylus for easier typing on its virtual keyboard.

June 13, 2008|Michelle Quinn | Times Staff Writer

Hillary Clinton broke new ground in her race for the White House. Yet some iPhone users complain that when it comes to the hot gadget from Apple Inc., women are still being treated like second-class citizens.

Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., said this week that on July 11 it would give all iPhones a free software upgrade with new features. On the same day, it will start selling a new version, the iPhone 3G, that runs on a faster data network, includes a global positioning system and costs as little as $199.

But despite all that Apple is offering, some people were disappointed by what the iPhone lacked, whether it was a way to add more memory, shoot video or cut and paste text.

Erica Watson-Currie of Newport Beach wanted a stylus. She and other women who have long fingernails -- as well as some people of both genders with chunky fingers -- have trouble typing on the iPhone.

The iPhone's virtual keyboard, which appears on the device's touch screen, responds to the electrical charge emitted by fingertips, not fingernails.

"Considering ergonomics and user studies indicating men and women use their fingers and nails differently, why does Apple persist in this misogyny?" said Watson-Currie, 39, a consultant and lecturer, who says her fingernails are typically between one-eighth and one-quarter of an inch long.

Many iPhone owners say that one of the iPhone's best traits is its ability to function without a stylus -- the often-misplaced mini-chopstick required by the Palm Pilot and other earlier hand-held gadgets.

The intense scrutiny of the iPhone, which combines an iPod, cellphone and Web-surfing device, may be the price Apple pays for mounting expectations about the many things the gadget can do, said Jennifer Aaker, professor of marketing at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

"Any time you fulfill multiple roles, there are going to be gripes," she said.

The iPhone fingernail problem doesn't appear to have hurt iPhone sales, particularly with women. The company has sold 6 million iPhones since they hit stores in June 2007. One out of every three iPhones bought in March was by a woman, up from 1 in 4 in October, according to Nielsen Mobile.

The virtual keyboard has posed a problem for a variety of people, said Gavin Lew, managing director of User Centric Inc., which has studied the iPhone user experience.

"There's tight real estate there," he said. "You are asking your finger to hit the letter just right and no others. You may be trying to press the 'W' but you accidentally hit the 'Q.' "

Apple's software automatically corrects typing mistakes, a feature that many people like. But it sometimes guesses the wrong letters.

Heidi Roizen, a prominent Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur who likes pretty fingernails, says she gets around the fingernail problem by using her thumbs on the screen. "My thumbnail does not hit it," she said.

The approach doesn't entirely solve the problem. On Roizen's iPhone wish list: That the virtual keyboard would switch into "landscape mode," or spread out horizontally, as it does in displaying photographs, when she types e-mail so that the keys are wider across the screen.

Apple declined to comment. In the past, the company has said that it's more natural to use the pointing tool you were born with: the finger.

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michelle.quinn@latimes.com

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