You go, girl gadgeteer

Women, a growing force in consumer electronics, have a message for gadget makers--and it's not all about pink. Photos: Gadgets for gals

Stop Gina Hughes in the street on any given day and you'll find the following in her bag: a Treo, a Bluetooth headset, a digital camera, an iPod--and, quite possibly, a few more gadgets for good measure.

Swing by her house and you'll see a couple of TiVos and flat-panel televisions, a MacBook Pro, a camcorder, a PlayStation Portable and a Nintendo DS Lite. Don't even get started on her car--the dashboard has more buttons than the helm of the starship Enterprise.

Gadgets "make you feel safe and confident," said the 32-year-old gearhead, who runs the blog Techie Diva from her Silicon Valley home. "And of course, they make you look cool."

Hughes, who also writes a tech column for Yahoo, could be the poster child for today's girl gadgeteers. Passionate and knowledgeable about her gear, and a careful consumer known to spend weeks researching a product before plunking down her cash, she's part of a growing legion of women who, more than ever before, are getting gung ho about gadgets. And figures show they're becoming major players in the consumer-electronics market.

Out of $107.2 billion spent on consumer-electronics technology in 2005, men accounted for 54 percent, or $57.9 billion worth, of those purchases, and women took care of 46 percent, or $49.3 billion, according to market research firm The NPD Group. That's an 18 percent increase in spending by females compared with the previous year, when women rang up $41.9 billion in gadget purchases. Men spent about the same amount in 2004 as they did in 2005.

"It's increasingly not just about having a gadget, but having a functional product that enhances the life of the family," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group. "The idea that people go online to go shopping--that makes the computer (purchase) something of a household decision. It's not just guys in charge of the gadgets."

Gadgets for girls

Whether the wallet is being wielded by a stay-at-home mom, a working woman or any of the other countless variations on the 21st century female, gadget makers are taking note. Major companies including Apple Computer, Motorola, Eastman Kodak, Sony and Nintendo are giving products like cell phones, USB flash drives and handheld game devices bursts of color and graceful lines, and featuring women prominently in ads. Some designers, meanwhile, are developing products with an exclusively female audience in mind.

"Most of the women I know play a lot of different roles in their lives, and they're all very important to them," said designer Steffi Card. "They don't use (a gadget) just for business. They need it for their personal lives, their friendships, their family, all of these things."

Card conceived of , a new line of stylish headbands that double as headphones, with an optional matching cell phone headset, after concluding that typical headphones, in her mind at least, are uncomfortable and none too attractive.

"I didn't like how inflexible they were," said the New York designer, who co-owns Steffi Thomas NYC with her husband. "I didn't like that the speaker of the headset always had to be in my ear all the time--I felt like I was living my life...with only one ear." Plus, she added, "I decided I didn't like the way they looked."

Her alternative works like a traditional headband, worn behind the ears to push back hair. Swapsets are available in wool, cotton and silk, in designs from polka dots to stripes to Indian-inspired paisleys. Earringlike dangles hanging from the bottom of the headband are an optional accessory, for added flair.

"The idea with a headset is that you're wearing it on your face, your head. It's very personal," Card said. "Why wouldn't it be attractive and interesting? Once you're wearing it, it might as well be fun."

The Swapsets site even has a tool for mixing and matching fabrics so consumers can come up with just the right look to match their getup. But as passionate as Card is about fashion and design, she's also adamant that gadgets aimed at women have to incorporate more than a sense of style.

"It has to be cute and attractive," she said. "That's important, but not the only thing that matters. It's quality, comfort and utility."

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