Why Apple and Beats? It's a family thing

Apple’s alleged interest in Beats is causing furrowed brows. But might it see Beats as a slightly outrageous, cool little brother?

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Sarah Tew/CNET
Apple and Beats sounds like a salad at half of the Bay Area's fancy restaurants.

It's a little weird, but very pretty. It makes you feel better about yourself. But it mightn't taste as good as, say, the (organic) burger and fries you'll have as your entree.

Some, though, are trembling that Apple's supposed interest in buying Beats doesn't even make them feel good. They see nothing organic in the pairing. They see that perhaps the chefs at the Cupertino Grill are merely trying too hard to be cool.

Beats does bring with it a certain cachet. You can decide whether that cachet is either attractive or deserved. Some say the product quality is little removed from that of your average midrange microwave.

But since when did real people care about the true technical quality of anything? At least, technical quality as defined by, you know, technical people.

Kevin Garnett wears these things. I am 17, therefore I will wear these things. What don't you understand about this, bro?

The brands are different, even if they both depend on the principle of a design that people gravitate to.

Where Apple's brand has bathed in subtlety, Beats' is overt. Where Apple's headphones are tiny little things, Beats' are bigger than even Prince Charles' ears.

Yet both brands understand their identities, and neither has yet tried to move into areas where it feels uncomfortable.

This might be just one reason why they'll get along. They both know their strengths and their limitations.

Just as Google struggles with the idea that not every product should have a Google logo, perhaps Apple realizes that, as it moves into wearables, not everyone is going to want to wear an Apple logo in as overt a manner as they seem to love Beats' "b."

Why not foster the continued growth of a very current brand so that it complements technology's new drift, with Apple (and its profits) hopefully at its center?

If we'll soon be led, like sheep to the shearing pen, toward technology hanging from our bodies like 12-inch earrings on arm candy, why not take advantage of a brand that's already proven it's wearable?

Many have suggested that Apple will enjoy Beats' music expertise, just as Beats will enjoy some of Apple's technical skills.

But it could be more than that. Beats knows music in the sense that it knows how to sell it. Anyone who watched Jimmy Iovine on "American Idol" realizes that his feel for public tastes is uncanny.

When it comes to selling, Apple's management enjoys the sense of surprise it brings to product launches.

But it doesn't just own white as a background to its products.

It's noticeable that everyone who stands on stage and twangs the strings of the faithful is male and white.

The sight of Dr. Dre and Angela Ahrendts -- Apple's new hire from Burberry -- being part of a future Apple show surely wouldn't hurt a brand whose projections are global, whose needs to appeal to the young are constant and considerable, and whose sense of self has been questioned by, well, itself over the last couple of years.

Dre would surely never be an Apple employee. However, we're talking about a lot of show business here. It's not the same as ordinary business.

More and more in tech, the showing is the telling. It's not merely (or even much) about what the product can do, but what it says about the person holding it and poking it and how it makes that person feel.

Apple has never been a brand that is simply about the products. It's about the feelings and experiences those products engender and the human possibilities that they allow to blossom.

Everything from the fact that the phones look so good to the idea that there's someone in a store not far away who'll help you not to look too silly when you're using them means that the brand still is different.

Beats has proven that it knows something about the people who wear its products and don't think twice about whether technically these are the best money can buy. Beats knows how they like to feel.

This might not seem like the perfect marriage. Which is?

But, should the deal truly happen, how can one not imagine that it will be a touch of Botox for a brand that's beginning to age a fraction -- a polishing that Wall Street just might enjoy when it starts thinking -- and a stepping up to maturity and ubiquity for a brand that's come very fast from very little?

Beats could now be Apple's little, slightly outrageous brother. One day, perhaps it can grow up too.

 

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