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Fashion meeting form in technology world

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Beats headphones give street cred to an Apple laptop.

MICHAEL DWYER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Beats headphones give street cred to an Apple laptop.

NEW YORK -- Beats Electronics' colourful, 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, wearable gadgets such as smartwatches and Google Glass 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 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 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 gowns.

"I guess they are accessories, but I would not say they are high fashion," said Alison Minton, a blogger who writes about accessories, jewelry and handbags on 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 beginning to attract top talent from the world of fashion. Apple's move comes less than a year after the iPhone and iPad inventor hired Angela Ahrendts, a respected executive who helped mould Burberry into the popular luxury brand it is today. 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, 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?" wrote Rossin a Google Plus post.

For Ahrendts, Apple is already a luxury brand. Three years before she was hired at Apple last fall, she signalled her admiration for Apple in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"I don't look at Gucci or Chanel or anyone," Ahrendts told the newspaper 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."

Dr. Dre and Iovine have created wildly popular headphones young hipsters, celebrities and professional athletes adorn themselves with --even when they're not listening to music. Dre and Iovine's input will be highly valued as Apple looks to introduce its next breakthrough device.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 B10

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