By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
There is a steadfast rule to successful development of an accessory: the product must solve a problem or enhance a user's experience.
The digital culture is driven by major hardware and technology advances, coupled with user behavior. It is imperative for a consumer electronics peripherals manufacturer to understand it is supplying practical solutions as well as impacting consumer behavior, and as a result, digital popular culture.
Let's take as an example: the Apple iPod. Wildly successful on its own, the iPod presented accessories makers with an opportunity and a challenge. The blatant business opportunity lay in the enormous install base — another hard rule: no install base, fewer opportunities for peripheral development. The challenge was to correctly identify not only how consumers wanted to use the iPod, but also what they wanted it to do better, and how to deliver those products to meet the consumer demand coupled with the very specific iPod aesthetic intrinsically tied to the device's success.
A few companies managed to get it right with high-quality speaker systems, FM transmitters and batteries. All of these product categories enhance the iPod experience at home, in the car and on the go.
There is a good reason these iPod accessories were successful. Several audio companies like Bose and JBL capitalized on what they do best: sound. They understood that people were increasingly favoring the iPod as their music storage and listening system, so they built killer speakers for the device, turning it into the home stereo.
The makers of the FM transmitter understood the importance of mobility for that same experience. Everyone loves listening to music in their cars. Companies like Griffin Technologies created a simple, cost-effective solution to easily listen to tunes stored on the iPod through external car stereo speakers.
Still other companies approached a different problem that plagued the iPod from the start: battery life. Probably the most common complaint when the groundbreaking MP3 player shipped was solved with lightweight rechargeable battery packs that were designed to match the look of the iPod. Nyko's iBoost rechargeable battery took into consideration that iPod is a fashion statement among other things, and disrupting the aesthetic would not work.
Interactive entertainment is another area that deserves focus. The audience for game peripherals right now is a tech-savvy, style-conscious consumer who is very passionate about their gear as a statement of their “digital lifestyle.” The next generation of gaming hardware being released is filled with opportunities for peripherals companies for two reasons: the systems almost always have shortcomings gamers obsess over; and self expression is a big deal for the enthusiast. Showing off hardware setups is a big deal in the gaming communities, and having the best gear gives those gamers the bragging rights.
Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld game device is probably one of the sexiest machines to hit stores in the last few years. Capable of running movies, games, storing music and connecting to the Internet, the PSP became a fast favorite of well-to-do young technophiles. But it has a couple of problems: the system is fragile, with an incredible screen that requires protection; and its lithium-ion battery drains quickly with continuous use. Several companies jumped on this. Logitech and Intec shipped tremendously popular protective cases that included pockets to carry UMD movies and games for the device. Nyko developed a successful product called the Theater Experience, which solves and enhances the PSP experience on many levels: it is a case, which protects the PSP; it has a built-in battery adding valuable PSP playback time; and it has built-in speakers to enhance the multimedia features of the device. These add-ons accomplished a simple goal: integrate the user's PSP into his daily life.
The competing Xbox 360 video game system, released by Microsoft last fall, was shipped with several goals in mind. Primarily, Microsoft wanted the platform to be the central entertainment hub for the living room. But Microsoft also recognized the popularity of gear as a lifestyle statement and added a replaceable faceplate and dashboard customization in Xbox Live. Immediately, video game publishers and accessory companies alike recognized the potential of personalization as a key way for enthusiasts to support their favorite games or teams directly within the Xbox 360 environment. Game makers started preprinting images from their games to fire up the fan community and several manufacturers created designer series of faceplates. It has become a trend similar to the customized cases and plates for cellphones and other handheld devices, with a nod to the PC “modding” community where the Xbox 360 lifestyle has its roots. Nyko developed a customizable faceplate kit for the Xbox 360, giving gamers the option to create their own faceplate design at home and switch them out as frequently as they like.
This year at E3, we saw the latest hardware specs for the next-generation Nintendo Wii and PS3. Both platforms exploit the use of peripherals to further advance game-play experiences. The market is full of electronic devices that are becoming a part of our daily life. As peripherals makers, we must keep our eyes open and perception elevated to discover the potential for enhancing the digital lifestyle through gear innovation.
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