NEW YORK – Beats Electronics’ colorful, oversized headphones serve as a fashion accessory to cool kids riding the New York City subway, but as tech companies such as Apple, Samsung and others are discovering, smartwatches, Google Glass and other wearable gadgets still have a long way to go to become trendy, must-have consumer items.
Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronics, by far the company’s largest acquisition, is at least in part recognition that Beats founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine might be able to help Apple incorporate more style and flair into its premium technology gadgets – especially a coming wave of wearable devices.
Technology companies see wearables as an important area of growth beyond smartphones and tablets, and many are slowly realizing that if they expect people to wear gadgets – be they bracelets to monitor fitness activity, smartwatches to substitute smartphones or Internet-connected goggles – those devices must focus as much on form as function.
So far, the most noteworthy wearables have hardly been stylish. The standard Google Glass product looks more like something out of Star Trek than a fashion accessory. Fitness bands meant to be worn 24 hours a day are difficult to match with evening wear.
I guess they are accessories, said Alison Minton, a blogger who writes about accessories, jewelry and handbags on www.accessorygeneration.com. There’s a ways to go before they could be considered high fashion in the way Chanel would be, or Prada.
To change that, tech companies are attracting top talent from the fashion world. Apple’s move comes less than a year after the iPhone and iPad inventor hired Angela Ahrendts, who helped mold Burberry into a popular luxury brand.
In recent weeks, Google lured fashion and marketing executive Ivy Ross, who’s worked for Calvin Klein, the Gap and Coach, to head its Google Glass unit.
With your help, Ross wrote in a Google Plus post, I look forward to answering the seemingly simple, but truly audacious questions Glass poses: Can technology be something that frees us up and keeps us in the moment, rather than taking us out of it? Can it help us look up and out at the world around us, and the people who share it with us?
For Ahrendts, Apple is already a luxury brand. Three years before she was hired at Apple last fall, she signaled her admiration for the company. I don’t look at Gucci or Chanel or anyone, Ahrendts said in 2010. If I look to any company as a model, it’s Apple. They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle, and that’s the way I see us.