Photo: Courtesy of Memi.
Consider this for a second: Is mobile tech the sort of thing that benefits from being gendered, or does it fall into the sexist marketers' trap of products like Bic for Her and lady liquors? That is to say, what problem does tech targeted at women address that it can't address for everyone?
I ask because, as a man — though not a particularly butch one — I really dig the look of Memi, a forthcoming "smart-bracelet" that alerts the wearer to various notifications. The problem is, it's made for women.
It's not the first device of its kind, especially now that wearables have become the next big thing. The Pebble e-paper watch, which debuted last year at CES, also syncs to mobile phones via Bluetooth and alerts you to calls, texts, emails, and more. Just today Samsung announced an updated version of its Galaxy Gear. Google, too, has a tentative release date for its smart watch, while Apple is still rumored to be working on its own.
All of those devices are designed to be unisex, but "feminine" is probably the last adjective you'd use to describe them. Memi, meanwhile, is more graceful in its curves and significantly more pared down. A minimal silver bangle, it has no display; instead, it vibrates when you get a notification. (The idea is that women often leave their phones in their purses, which Memi calls "black holes" for ringers and vibrations.) One of the most interesting things is its mobile app, which allows you to filter those notifications. Your phone might be buzzing every five seconds, but Memi will only alert you to the people that matter: babysitters, parents, bosses, significant others, and so on. Like many fitness bracelets on the market, it holds its charge for several days and recharges through a micro-USB port. Overall, it's sleek, adaptable, and utilitarian.
That brings us back to the gendered tech issue. Memi looks great amid a cluster of bangles, but I can see it just as easily wrapped around a man's wrist. TechCrunch reporter John Biggs asked Memi's creator, Leslie Pearson, why it was meant for women only. Pearson explained that there had been significant interest on Kickstarter for a men's model, which could be coming "down the road."
That's not to say there isn't interest in the original, female-targeted model. On the contrary, Memi not only reached its $100,000 Kickstarter goal but has secured an additional $700,000 in start-up funds, according to TechCrunch.
If the wearables market is as fecund as some industry analysts suggest, gendered tech might have some staying power. (After all, even Apple has begun to gear itself more as a lifestyle brand with its hires of former YSL and Burberry execs.) In the meantime, I'll just have to hope that the current Memi model fits me. (TechCrunch)