SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - With consumers showing an appetite for stylish personal devices, PC and gadget makers will need more than just vibrant colors, rounded edges or an elegant metallic finish to stand out in a crowded market.
PC users are increasingly interested in what's on the outside as much as what's on the inside. And as the market shifts to laptops from desktops, computers are more portable and hence more visible, making them as much of a design statement as a purse or a pair of shoes.
Richard Shim, a PC analyst with IDC, said it's all part of a larger trend of "hyper-specialization" in notebooks.
"Personalization is becoming a big differentiator. It's just a question of how far you can take it and how much money you can get for it," he said.
With many competing technology products delivering similar performance, some consumers will be looking as much at style and flair as they do microprocessors and gigabytes.
" want to take the focus off speeds and feeds and put it on something else, because it's pretty hard to differentiate yourself," said NPD analyst Stephen Baker.
Design has always played a role in technology products. Apple Inc has long been acknowledged for its minimalist, sleek products such as Macintosh computers and iPhones. But now, consumers can tailor the look of many other gadgets.
In addition to offering a variety of personalized "skins" -- molded coverings that consumers affix to their computers to change the color or design of the device's exterior -- PC makers are ranging farther afield to come up with new designs.
Asustek offers a notebook clad in bamboo, while Dell Inc launched a bamboo desktop model this year. Both products are meant to tout the companies' green credentials.
In addition, Dell, the world's No. 2 PC maker, offers more than 100 different original designs by hand-picked artists that can be permanently infused on some of its laptops. The service costs $75.
Hewlett-Packard Co, the world's top computer maker, began focusing on design back in 2006, said Ted Clark, general manager of HP's notebook business. He said the plan was to bring "cool design to what had been kind of a one-size-fits all look and feel."
HP is planning to ship a netbook designed by fashion designer Vivienne Tam, featuring peony flowers, that is meant to evoke a clutch purse.
It's not just PC makers that are making their products more personal. With the wildly popular Flip camcorder, buyers can pick from scores of exterior design choices or upload their own image to slap on the outside.
Portable hard drives aren't the sexiest of devices. But Iomega Corp, which is owned by EMC Corp, sells one outfitted in camouflage, and another in leather, making the color choices offered by rivals Seagate Technology and Western Digital seem almost tame in comparison.
Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Derek Caney