Siemens joins fashion-phone craze

The handset maker joins Nokia and others in trying to make cell phones a fashion statement. Its Xelibri phones will be marketed like haute couture, with two new collections a year.

Phone maker Siemens said Monday that it has elevated the cell phone to a fashion statement.

The company introduced its first Xelibri cell phone, meant to be worn on clothing. The phone not only looks different, it'll be sold differently as well. The German handset maker plans to offer the Xelibri line at department stores and fashion retailers, instead of the usual phone stores. And, Siemens said, new models will appear twice a year--in spring/summer and fall/winter collections, just like in the world of haute couture.

Siemens said it's taking fashion phones up a notch, trying with the Xelibri to create a whole new product line for phones. The Xelibri and future fashion cell phones will eschew mobile e-mail and other data-oriented features in favor of just being able to send and receive calls, the company said.

"The launch of this new brand is a key element of Siemens' mobile strategy, which sees the market split into voice-centric fashionable phones and feature-rich phones," meant for more intensive use, said Rudi Lamprecht, a member of Siemens' board of directors.

Siemens isn't the only company to try to transform the phone from utilitarian workhorse to something worthy of showing off. IBM is working on an earring phone, and Motorola is opening a design center in Milan, Italy, to capture the perfect fashionable look.

In April of last year, Sprint PCS unveiled the 4NE1, a phone that can be worn as a necklace. It sells for $149 and comes with a display screen that can be decorated with various screensavers.

Nokia also markets wearable phones, a representative said. And the company took fashion to extremes when it helped introduce Vertu's $30,000 phone--decorated with sapphires and rubies.

The new Siemens phones go on sale beginning in April 2003 in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore and Spain. Siemens will sell into additional markets by September. The company did not make pricing information available Monday.

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