For Suzy Wagner, owning a naked Apple iPod is so yesterday.
To keep up with other digerati, she is styling it up. The 35-year-old advertising sales manager recently walked out of the Apple Store in Clarendon with a bag full of new accessories: an FM transmitter, a car charger, a cable that connects the iPod to her television and a pink case (she wouldn't want to scratch it if she were to drop it). She had spent $135 by the end of her shopping spree.
Consumers like Wagner are dressing up their iPods with the same pride and affection that car fanatics apply to their Cadillac Escalades. The success of the iPod has spawned a more than $2 billion business for iPod accessories, with companies ranging from electronics-maker Belkin Corp. to fashion designer Kate Spade jumping into the market for the key lifestyle symbol of the digital music era.
The iPod accessories run the gamut. An alarm clock from iHome, a subsidiary of Rahway, N.J.-based SDI Technologies Inc., hooks up to the iPod so people can wake up to the music on their playlists. Wagner's new television cable will enable her to transfer the photos on her iPod to her television screen so she can create home slide shows.
"I can't wait to get home and start playing with it," Wagner said, looking eagerly at her shopping bag.
IPod owners are spending an average of more than $150 on accessories, according to the Envisioneering Group, a market research firm based in Seaford, N.Y.
"This is the first music product that people consider to be an emotional statement," said Richard Doherty, the firm's research director.
The craze has even spread to clothing -- for infants. One Web site, iPodmybaby.com, sells multicolored baby jumpers with the familiar iPod scroll wheel on the front, for people who want their children to look like life-size music players. The site has made more than 1,000 sales since it launched a couple of weeks ago, according to Dave Schroeder of Reston, who co-founded the business.
Most iPod accessories come from manufacturers other than the Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Computer Inc. At the beginning of the year, there were about 500 iPod accessories on the market, said Greg Joswiak, vice president of iPod worldwide product marketing at Apple. That number has grown, but currently only 23 accessories bear the Apple brand.
Harman Consumer Group Worldwide, a division of Washington-based Harman International Industries Inc. and a maker of high-end car and home stereo systems, has sold over 500,000 iPod accessories since the fall of 2004. The extras range from attachable stereo systems to iPod docking stations.
"Because our business has always been about looking at how technology or products change the way people engage in entertainment, when they launched the iPod, we began talking about what it meant," said Gina Harman, president of the group.
"It would change the way people thought about their music library," she said.
The accessories market will grow as long the iPod is in demand, Doherty said. So far, the digital media player has not slowed down. Apple posted a record 6.2 million iPod shipments in its fiscal third quarter, which ended June 25.
In the Clarendon Apple Store, the iPod accessories were hot. Customers who wandered into the store one recent Saturday automatically drifted toward the aisle with the iPod merchandise.
For some, it just seems logical to add more functions to the digital music player. John White, a 53-year-old network architect, rushed to the store just a few hours after moving to Arlington from Colorado. He said he needed a new cable to connect his iPod to his stereo.
"When you have 2,100 songs in it, you might as well hook it up to your sound system," White said.
Others are simply out to make a statement. Marguerite Gabriele, 20, and Alejandra Lopez, 23, emerged from the store bearing pink and black iPod cases, respectively.
Gabriele bought her iPod about two years ago, and like most people, dropped it a couple of times. A plain white iPod with scratches is no longer hip among the college crowd, she said.
"I'm bored of mine. Mine's ugly," she said. The new pink case would make it cool again.
There are pricier cases available, ranging from Burberry to Kate Spade. But, Lopez asked her friend incredulously, who would really buy that sort of thing?
Gabriele said she would.
"You carry it around everywhere," Gabriele said. "You might as well dress it up."