Techno chic: It's all about the bling when it comes to gadgets.
By Leigh Grogan
Theresa Sheldon's cell phone
rocks. Not with ring tones but with Swarovski crystals, which twinkle and
sparkle and form the initials of her favorite band, Nine Inch Nails. For about
$75, Sheldon had her phone personalized with the bold "NIN" after attending a
concert in Los Angeles last fall. "It's as girlie as I get," says Sheldon, who
lives in Rancho Cordova and works for the state. "Now it's a conversation
piece." For Sheldon and a growing number of others, personal electronics are
among the most hip of accessories. Not only are they functional, but they're
becoming increasingly fashionable.
Of course, not everyone is going to encrust their phones with crystals. But
then, they don't have to. Electronics manufacturers are churning out a variety
of chic, sophisticated devices - from ultrathin cell phones to crystal-studded
ear buds - to entice consumers with a variety of tastes. How about a
pretty-in-pink Razr V3c (about $400) or the subtly stylish PEBL (about $300),
both by Motorola? After all, the company's motto is "Don't just make a call -
make a statement."
Indeed, the company gets downright poetic when referring to the PEBL, the
"essence of mobile sophistication. Hold it in your palm and you'll understand
its mysterious pull." All this, and you can text-message your friends, too?
That's waaaay cool. Mark Siegel, a spokesman for Cingular Wireless, which sells
the Motorola brand, among others, says today's consumers would rather not own a
phone at all if their only other choice was some clunky, oversize model (think
Jerry's bricklike portable phone on "Seinfeld," circa 1995). "Consumers want
gadgets that make people sit up and take notice," Siegel says from Atlanta.
And it doesn't hurt if your cool cell sends out the message that you're cool.
It's the ultimate status symbol. For instance, a line of "smartphones" is likely
to trump the BlackBerry as the next must-have gadget, says Molly Wood, executive
editor at Cnet.com, a San Francisco-based company that reviews and writes about
electronics. "The Palm Treo 650 and 700 are for top-of-the-line business types
who like Palm Pilots, PDAs (personal digital assistants), do-it-all phones,"
Wood says. "The Treo says, 'I'm an executive and I'm stylish at the same time.'
Kurt Beyer, 38, admits to being what he calls an "early adaptor," someone who
scoops up a gadget the minute it hits the marketplace, then replaces it when a
new model comes along. And these days, he's replacing things faster than ever,
as he believes technology is changing more rapidly than it used to. "There was
the Sony Walkman in the '80s, the cell phone in the '90s and, eventually, the
iPod," says Beyer, who owns the Washington, D.C.-based Riptopia, a company that
creates digital music libraries, particularly for iPods. "I had one of the first
PDAs, and it was almost the size of a laptop. They started shrinking immediately
after I bought it." OK. We get it. The original iPod, introduced by Apple in
October 2001 and now labeled by Beyer "a clunky relic," is about as hot these
days as last season's shrug. Which brings us - as so many things do these days -
back to fashion. "Now that we've figured out the technology part, there's a
significant focus on (gadget) style," Wood says. "Gucci, Prada, Kate Spade and
Louis Vuitton all make iPod covers," Wood says. "It's become the thing to do if
you're an accessories designer."
The electronics industry is also focusing a lot of its attention on female
consumers, and with good reason. According to the Consumer Electronics
Association, women are expected to spend about $65 billion this year on
electronics just for themselves. Like Sheldon and her jeweled cell phone, women
tend to want their personal electronics to stand out. So they get them
customized. The CEA reports that "external cosmetic personalizations" - skins,
stickers, faceplates, glitter, feathers, fur, crystals - are more popular among
women than among men. The CEA also notes that personalization makes cell phones
unique, reflecting tastes in pop culture and personality. On a practical level,
they can help owners identify phones if they get lost. But practical,
schmactical. Admit it. We all just want people to look.
Says Sheldon, the fervent Nine Inch Nails fan: "I think the band even noticed my
phone at one show." Add a personal touch to your gadgets
Want your personal electronics to look hot, so that you can be cool, but you
don't want to pay the $300 for a new razor-thin cell phone?
You can have your gadgets customized for about half that cost. Here are some Web
sites that offer do-it-yourself kits: * Myblingring.com: Bling-it-yourself kits
feature crystals, including the Bling Ring Couture Kit ($125) that has 750
Swarovski crystals. * Shopjuici.com: This site offers a cute mix of cell phone
and iPod covers in a range of prices, mostly $15 or less. * Modphone.com: "The
first house of phone fashion," Modphone also offers covers for MP3 players and
PDAs. Prices depend on whether you want one or both sides of the device covered.