Fashion and the Commoditization of Devices

January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment


The Versace phone is old news –a $7,000 phone is bound to make the twitter rounds.  Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Armani, and Dior weren’t long to follow the unsuccessful bandwagon of electronic endorsements. As one of the 10 people on earth actually interested in both technology and fashion, I’m surprised a designer mobile device came so soon, but I guarantee it is the face of things to come.

Before I get into predicting the future, I’d like to discuss why these devices (and in particular the Versace phone) failed. 

Wrong market!

At the $7,000 price point this phone wants to compete with luxury watch makers.  Watches are timeless, ageless, and last a hundred years.  They maintain value.  Phones get tossed about every two years.  Instead of looking at watchmakers as competition, Versace should target the luxury handbag market.  Priced between $1,500 and $2,000, these devices would be much more accessible to people with interest in (or a weakness for) fashion credibility.  Send them down the runway with other accessories targeted for mass appeal. 


I’m not going to debate the merits of the form factor – I think the phone is tacky, but I’m not a huge Versace fan.  HP recently partnered with a few designers to give their laptops shiny designer-emblazoned cases.  What did they create?  A line of crappy, ugly laptops with designer logos.  High end designers (in general) are to clothing, what Aston Martin is to cars – they obsess over every detail and the result is a work of art.  You can’t take a Honda, add an Aston Martin logo, and expect people to buy it for markup.

But if you could take the experience of purchasing an article of designer clothing – the smell, the feel, the stitching, the way it fell on a body, the colors, the contrast and applied it to electronics you’d have a hell of a business.  If holding, talking, and internet browsing were fundamentally different, more visceral, the device would sell. 

User experience

It isn’t just the form factor that sells phones!  It’s the UX!  It’s the app story!  It’s the battery life!  And the stability!  I could go on.  Until these things are so commonplace we take them for granted, a device will never be able to survive on designer-branding alone.

Network hassle

This is really US specific, but I’m pretty sure that very few people with the inclination to purchase a designer phone could actually get it up and running on a network.  You need physical hand-holding for even the most vaguely technical situations (especially with fashion people).

So with the laundry list of problems, why do I think this market has a future?  The smartphone industry is still so new — these designer-y gadgets are before their time.  As the features that differentiate the iPhone become commonplace, there will be more opportunity for fashion to differentiate the players – and make a huge profit in a saturated market.


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