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Leather laptops coming soon

Don't put a coffee cup on that laptop. With its fancy exterior, it might leave a ring. Dow Chemical and Tulip partner on tech fashion. Photos: Luxurious laptops

Appointed with leather, chrome and wood. It sounds like a sales pitch for a family station wagon, but those will be some of the options for laptops if a Dow Chemical unit gets it way.

Inclosia Solutions has developed a process it calls Exo overmolding that can be used to add fabrics, leather or metal to PC enclosures. While the Exo process has been used to bring leather covers to small electronics products, such as Microsoft's leather IntelliMouse, Inclosia is now starting to design and make laptop enclosures.

luxurious laptops

Tulip Distribution International Holding, the sales division of the resurrected Dutch PC company Tulip Computers, is showing off six prototype leather and fabric E-Go notebooks that it will bring to the market in October 2005. While they will initially be sold in Europe, Tulip will look at ways the E-Go can be used to penetrate other markets, sources said.

And for those of you who long for the Levi's binder you had in seventh grade, denim is also an option under the Exo process, as are embroidered logos, snaps, tassels, fringe and Velcro.

Although it's difficult, some companies have rejuvenated their fortunes by turning the PC into a fashion statement. Apple Computer launched its comeback with the original iMac in 1998. Similarly, Sony, a chronic laggard in PCs, saw its market share in notebooks take off with the Vaio 505, a slim notebook with a metal case, at about the same time.

More recently, Acer has become one of the fastest-growing PC makers in the world, thanks to light and novel notebooks.

Tulip was a major brand decades ago. It sold Commodore PCs in the United States and a variety of PCs in Europe. But in the late 1990s, the company went through financial turmoil and shipments declined, IDC analyst Roger Kay said .

The company was then bought by local entrepreneur Huub van den Boogaard. "Europeans remembered the brand and had a positive association with it," Kay said. Van den Boogaard at first aimed Tulip PCs at high-end retail boutiques. The company made a notebook encrusted with gems. The limited market for these types of novelty notebooks, however, has prompted the company to try to reach a broader audience while retaining some flair.

"Competition in the computer market is driven by specifications and price, with a growing demand of users willing to pay a premium for computer designs which are more personalized,? van den Boogaard said in a statement.

The Exo process involves attaching the natural exteriors to the plastic during the injection-molding process, said Tom Tarnowski, global marketing manager at Inclosia. Leather is not glued on. This is a key difference because it means that the fabrics won't peel off and can be wrapped around curves and angles without leaving wrinkles.

"It is permanently fused on," Tarnowski said. "It typically adds a couple of dollars to the cost of a housing."

The extra cost, though, can translate to better profits. Microsoft's leather IntelliMouse sells for a 20 percent premium over the plastic model, Tarnowski said, though the two are electronically identical.

Inclosia, which Dow created in the late 1990s, both designs the enclosures and manufacturers them. Some of the enclosures, such as the ones Tulip will use, come with a removable exterior veneer so that the cover fabrics can be changed. Others come with a permanent skin.

Several companies, for instance, came out with notebooks sporting shiny magnesium or titanium shells. Making these laptops in large numbers and cheaply, however, has often proved daunting, and many of these models fade out.

The enclosures can also protect a device. A leather-bound enclosure created by Inclosia for a Hewlett-Packard handheld can be dropped four feet without suffering damage.