It has been weeks since Apple announced its decision to buy Beats for $3.2 billion. And while I have maintained that it is about the music discovery service, others believe that headphones are part of the reason why Apple ponied up so much money. That didn’t make sense to me, considering that Apple is a hardware company and could easily turn up the volume on its headphone business. However, when I recently read Khoi Vinh’s post about the “go to market strategies” of the two companies, it all started to come together.
Vinh points out that it is hard to create variability at scale — that is why even iPod and iPhone come in only a handful of colors. In comparison, Beats’ middle name is variability. It offers 60 different types of headphones. In Vinh’s mind, the Beats catalog is akin to the Nixon watches catalog. What does he mean by that? Like Nixon, Beats’ “primary selection criteria are looks and style” whereas in Apple’s case, you pick your model before picking your style, he argues.
Apple is a company that makes tech which becomes fashionable. Beats makes fashion that is powered by technology. Today’s smart watches are essentially technology that hopes to become fashionable, but the current generation are aesthetically challenged to say the least. Arguably, Apple is highly aware of this, and is therefore thinking how it becomes the company that makes watches aka fashion powered by technology. And it is not just watches — but other consumables.
Robert Brunner, chief design officer of Beats (and formerly of Apple) recently suggested that fashion is a tribe you belong to or you aspire to belong to. Beats he argued was a tribe people want to associate with. Apple is doing its best to make sure that, as it starts to make more products outside of the traditional computing sphere — iWatches, for example — it successfully crosses over to becoming a fashion company too.
This certainly explains why Apple has been hiring fashion people from the fashion and watch business. Maybe, in the near future people will give Apple CEO Tim Cook some credit for thinking different. I have my reservations about the company and the lack of its Internet DNA — but have every confidence in Cook.