NEW YORK -- Beats Electronics' colorful, 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 like 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 that 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 that if they expect people to wear gadgets, 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 or even a suit and tie.
"I guess they are accessories, but I would not say they are high fashion," says Alison Minton, a blogger who writes about accessories, jewelry and handbags on accessorygeneration.com. "There's a way 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 mold 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.
The cultural coming-together of geeks and fashionistas is happening slowly, says Michael Londrigan, dean of academic affairs at LIM College, a fashion school in New York City.
"Overall, the goal is to marry the function with the fashion, creating a wearable technology that is sort of seamless."