The notion of “place” is undermined by an internet that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Nevertheless, origins still matter. That, at least in part, is why Apple bought Beats in 2014 for $3 billion.
Famous more for their style than their sound quality, Beats’ headphones control almost 70% of the premium headphone market. How can this be? The answer has less to do with technology or even design than with identity.
As designer of Beats’ first headphones Robert Brunner told GigaOM’s Roadmap conference, “Fashion is more than what it looks like, it’s about what you aspire to be, which group you belong to, and which tribe you want to belong to.”
Their appeal hearkens back to something that has defined Dre’s work since his early days with NWA. As Jesse Dorris writes for Slate, “In the end… Dre is selling something few besides him could credibly offer. In a way, he’s selling the same thing he has since the start of his career. Beats by Dre aren’t really cutting-edge technology. They aren’t trendy fashion accessories at heart, either. Beats by Dre are actually bass-delivery systems.”
Through their acquisition by Apple, the authenticity and coolness that Beats symbolizes is absorbed for a price. For a company known for its design purism—albeit one focused around notions of usability—Apple’s sensitivity to softer notions of street cred and emotional affinity shows they understand the need for technology to integrate with people’s lives in a deeper way.