Khoi Vinh wrote about what Beats bring to Apple.
On the design variations for a Beats headphone:
These aren’t just four colorways, or simple variants on coloring the same materials. These are four distinctly different combinations of plastics types and manufacturing methods, some distinguished by color, others by texture, and one by some kind of screen-printed graphic.
What’s more, these are just four options. The site’s headphones page lists—just for this product category alone—some sixty different color and style combinations across five or so different models. (All of which, by the way, sell for at least $179; not bad considering earbuds are given away free as a matter of course with smartphones.)
How that can apply to Apple wearables:
This reminded me immediately of what I wrote wrote last month about “Wearables, Fashion and iWatch”: iWatch, if it exists, will need to be more of a fashionable good than Apple has ever created before; fashionable goods depend in part on variability in order to satisfy individualized consumer expression; and creating variability at scale is the key economic challenge of wearables. It’s very difficult to successfully produce and deliver truly variable technology goods; that’s why iPods have never come in more than four or five colors and why Apple had such a hard time creating a white iPhone on its first time trying.
The difference in the Apple and Beats approach:
If you take a look at Beats’ headphones product catalog, it looks a lot closer to, say, the Nixon watches catalog than any catalog of technology products. Beats’ headphones, like Nixon’s watches, are oriented such that the primary selection criteria are looks and style; you’ve got to wade through those before you decide which model you want. By contrast, on Apple’s site, you’ve got to choose your model before you can choose your style — or, put another way, you choose what you want it do, first, and then you get to choose what you want it to look like.
These differences reflect fundamentally distinct ways of thinking about products, or more importantly, fundamentally distinct ways of thinking about what customers want. One path leads to a company that makes technology that (they hope) consumers will find to be fashionable; the other path leads to a company that makes fashionable goods powered by technology. Apple acquired Beats because it hopes that its future will look more like the latter than the former.