Last week I took my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and immerse myself in the current state of technology and gadgets. All the top brands have a booth or a showcase, as do smaller companies hoping to get noticed. It's a good place to get a feel for the tech zeitgeist. Or to understand where electronics makers want to push said zeitgeist. Going by the things I saw at the show, soon every one of you will need a curved TV and/or a curved phone plus a car with Android inside that drives itself and quite possibly appliances that cook on heir own. Cue the Skynet theme.
Another big trend this year is wearable tech. The line between tech accessories and fashion accessories is seriously blurring now. Fitness trackers don't all look like sports watches, anymore. And smartwatches are going to be less bulky and ugly in the near future. I even saw smart jewelry that showed pictures of fleurs-de-lis and other patterns when it wasn't alerting you to calls.
Tech/Fashion combos are not all ridiculous, but enough of them are that it hurts. Major case in point: a growing number of Bluetooth speakers that are also purses except they're not real purses because you can't carry anything in them. The first one I saw just made me roll my eyes. When I caught a glimpse of the second, I knew I was witnessing the beginning of a trend. A horrible trend... for the ladies.
At the forefront of this new wave is the Stelle Audio Couture Clutch, a stylish number that looks exactly like the accessory it's named for, complete with strap. Except that when you open it stereo speaker grills pop out and not lipstick. It's made for listening to music and taking phone calls and maybe holding a credit card in the side pocket. Affordable at just $349.
When I asked Anna Perelman, the CEO and founder of Stelle, why a woman would want to carry a Bluetooth speaker on their arm instead of a real purse. She countered that the Clutch wasn't designed to replace an actual purse, she just felt that women wanted really cool portable speakers. "Women love accessories. And this is another accessory item that just happens to be playing music." Perelman brought up a good point when she said that tech products designed for women are often not well designed at all. She sees Stelle as filling that void in designing "first and foremost with women in mind."
I agree with this philosophy in general, but still can't get down with the resulting product. I just don't see portable speakers as an accessory needing a distinctly feminine imprint on it in the design arena. Especially when the message seems to be Women-Centric = Purses. However, Perelman is clearly not alone in her approach since there are already copycats.
Over in the AR for Her booth I spotted the second handbag-shaped Bluetooth speaker of the show surrounded by other gadgets "designed with the modern woman in mind." What does the modern woman need? A battery pack/flashlight/siren alarm for safety, a matching set of charging cables for her phone, and a speaker she can hang off of her shoulder.
None of these products are that bad by themselves. The safety device, called a ZipStick, is actually quite a useful gadget. But the "For Her" branding plus the focus on matching colors/designs and the booth babes handing out Hershey's Kisses left me with a less than good impression. Even more annoying, there's another Bluetooth speaker in the line that is cute and could be pegged as feminine for the flower design on top, yet overall doesn't scream FOR THE LADIES in quite the same smarmy way.
As a woman who covers tech because she loves it, I would love to see more products that are designed inside and out with women in mind as well as men. Too often gadgets made for women I've seen at CES are based on superficial ideas about gender and what women want. It's not just all the pink (dear Zuul, the pink...), it's also the idea that to appeal to women you have to make the thing look like jewelry or a purse or emphasize how it will make a mom's life easier.
Not all women are mothers, some of us don't wear cheap jewelry, and a ton of us already have bags, thanks. I wish certain technology companies would delve under the surface for ideas and inspiration.
What say you, xoJane readers: are Bluetooth speaker purses silly and condescending or do you like the idea and want to buy one?