Scented, other 'fashion' PCs hit the catwalk

Type-and-sniff computers may be just what seemingly smell-obsessed teens are nosing around for

No two industries appear more dissimilar than those of PCs and fashion. One has long been marketed on style, the other on function. One is dominated by female consumers, the other by male buyers.

Yet the shelf life of high-end tech gear is as ephemeral as the latest fashion trends. And there are clear examples of industry crossover: the importance of style to Apple Inc.'s success, or the recent interest in "geek chic."

At the PROJECT Las Vegas fashion trade show this week, Microsoft Corp. is trying to bring the two worlds together, strutting its partners' coolest PC designs before fashionistas and style divas.

"People are into style, into how they and their clothes look. Why not be into the PC they carry?" asks Rob Poznanski, senior marketing manager in the OEM division at Microsoft.

One innovative PC on display in Las Vegas this week is the new Asus F6V, which emits one of four scents matched to the color of the machine's case. The scents range from "Musky Black" to "Bloom" (pink), "Aqua Ocean" (blue) and "Morning Dew" (green).

The scents were developed in Taiwan, in secret, for a year, reports

Asus, which has ridden the success of its Eee PC, a mini, ultracheap laptop, to the No. 6 spot worldwide among laptop vendors, according to IDC, developed a heat-transfer printing technology in order to imbue a clear plastic film with a scent. The film is then wrapped around the notebook. The scent lasts from three to six months, depending on the weather it is subjected to.

The $1,300 Intel Core 2 Duo-powered laptops are aimed at people in their 20s "who like to attract attention and show off in their Facebook photos," an Asus representative told

While scent-emitting laptops may sound like a lame gimmick like Smell-O-Vision, they could prove popular with the young, trend-conscious customers Asus is apparently targeting. Air fresheners such as Febreze and Glade that are designed to look like CD players and "play" scented "discs" are fast growing in popularity among teens and college students, especially girls, The New York Times has reported.

"I'm not sure [scent] is on the top of many OEM to-do lists, but Asus has innovated a few things that others have looked into before," Poznanski says.

Take its latest Lamborghini VX3 notebook. The $3,200 laptop comes with a leather palm rest, a canary-yellow paint job, an equine logo and other details from the Italian carmaker. Asus, along with Acer (and Ferrari) were the first to introduce laptops resembling race cars.

Other computers that Microsoft strutted in Las Vegas included the Ego Orphine, a laptop that looks like a Swarovski crystal-encrusted, Italian-leather purse; the Flybook Notebook VM, which has a screen mounted on a rotating spindle; the Dell Studio Hybrid, a $499 "green" mini-desktop computer that uses less power and is available with a bamboo case; and the HP Touchsmart IQ 506, a $1,249 all-in-one desktop with a touch-enabled 22-in. LCD screen.

"Windows PCs from whatever vendor are overdue for a style infusion," said David Graves, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "There are so many consumers who, for whatever reason, stick with Windows, but who nonetheless look over and think, 'That MacBook Air really looks cool.'"

Microsoft has long tried to push PC makers to make more innovative designs, but several things have held them back. PCs were primarily bought by businesses, and they were more expensive -- especially laptops. So most people bought desktops that they tended to hide away in their home offices or dens -- except for hard-core gamers, who customize their PCs with "case mods" in anticipation of the next LAN party at which to show off their pimped-out machines.

Times have changed. PCs have never been cheaper: desktops -- and laptops -- can be had for less than $700. More people are toting around laptops, too, especially in developed countries. And the desktop computers that consumers are buying are increasingly used as media centers and, as such, are displayed prominently next to the other must-have item: the large-screen HDTV.

Apart from the minimalist Sony Vaio LT desktop, none of the fashionable Windows PCs on show in Las Vegas bear much resemblance to any Mac models. Forrester's Graves wonders why more Windows PC makers don't try to emulate Apple, just as automotive and TV makers imitate successful designs in their industry.

Poznanski insists this latest push is not Microsoft telling its hardware partners to zig where Apple zags as a way of differentiating Windows PCs from Macs.

"It's all up to the OEM. If they want to [imitate Apple's design], we are in full support. We want to help them make the form factors that sell," Poznanski said. "We're all about choice."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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