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CES 2005: Form, Function and Stylin'

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2005; 9:44 AM

Word from the control tower has it that the geeks have been cleared to take the runway.

That seems to be one of the trends on tap for this week's International Consumer Electronics Show, once thought to be the third-leading cause of deafness but now the would-be No. 1 arbiter of defness.

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This year's gathering in Las Vegas probably will still feature walls of sound guaranteed to make Phil Spector jealous, but according to several recent news articles, the corporate suits and the temporarily unleashed D.C. policy wonks won't be the only ones sporting fast fashion.

We're not exactly talking about clothing, of course, though geeks with means do seem to favor more fashionable threads. Instead, consumer electronics companies are working hard to remember that form ought to follow function in the products they design. Here are the goods from the San Jose Mercury News: "How products look, not just work, has become an integral part of the design of everything from Sony's PlayStation Portable video game console to the dozens of flat-screen televisions, digital cameras, camcorders and cell phones making their debut at the show. Long gone are the days of beige and boxy desktop computers, clunky black cell phones and ugly black laptop bags. Now the hottest tech gear styles mirror those that prevail in home and clothing design."

Mary Alice Stephenson, a contributing editor to Harper's Bazaar and a fashion design consultant to Intel Corp., told the Mercury News that "Technology is an extension of personal style. It's gone from geek to chic. There's a kind of show-off factor now."

That's chick chic, according to Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group that runs CES. He said the trend toward fashionable tech coincides with the rise of women as buyers of technology, the Merc reported. Not that all companies know how to handle this trend. The paper wrote about VooDooPC, a "maker of specialty gaming PCs," such as its pink laptop. But as Stephenson of Harper's Bazaar pointed out, "designers have to do much more than change colors to please women."

The Mercury News article is chock full of other goodies on the intersection of the usually varying definitions of cool (often widely varying depending on whether you're quizzing geeks or hipsters): "Apple Computer's iPod music player has brought back the simplicity of white. Cell phones come with interchangeable 'skins,' or personalized covers, that are bathed in blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Even the once-homely Netgear network router comes in a sleek silver form that hides wires in the back. 'Technology should almost be invisible at this point,' says Ellen Glassman, general manager for brand design at Sony. Adds Paul Bradley of the industrial design firm Ideo in Palo Alto: 'The consumer electronics industry is going the way of the tennis shoe, where fashion really matters.'"

The Merc piece also took care to point out that today's routers, computers and other suddenly fashion-conscious gadgets are merely the latest models to walk the well-trodden catwalk established by Apple's iMac and the Sony Walkman.
San Jose Mercury News: Geek bling (Registration required)

You're Gonna Let Your iPod Go Out in That??

Speaking of Apple, its iPod digital music player (are we reaching the point where we don't have to tell you what it is every time we mention it?) is generating plenty of excitement at CES -- and not just because those captains of cool are making an appearance. "The country's hottest gadget won't be on display at the nation's biggest gadget show, but there will be plenty at the International Consumer Electronics Show this week to keep Apple Computer Inc.'s digital music player charged, connected -- and stylishly clothed," the Los Angeles Times reported. "In addition to the usual mix of cables, chargers and batteries, the pavilions of Las Vegas will host a wardrobe of iPod sweaters, jackets and socks. And like the collars on Paris Hilton's Chihuahua, most come in a rainbow of matching colors."

Sigh, there's that darn Chihuahua again...

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