Next time someone asks you what's on your iPod, they might not be talking about the music, but rather the jewel-encrusted designer case.
Last week Noreve, a French company that sells high-end leather cases for portable gadgets, added a $1,783 limited-edition "Love" iPod pouch to its catalog. The soft pink case is adorned with a white-gold heart encrusted with 44 diamonds.
Equally impractical is Fendi's Juke Box, a $1,500 carrying case devised by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, one of the brains behind Fendi and Chanel. The purse, which was unveiled on a Milan catwalk last summer, resembles more of a blinged-out breadbox than a carrying case and can hold up to a dozen iPods.
Lately Apple's little digital-music device, which has sold more than 10 million units since it hit the market in December 2001, has become a cultural force of sorts. In November USA Today dubbed the item's thriving impact "the iPod economy."
Accessorizing iPods has become almost as important as the player itself, and the market is being bombarded with new products by Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Burberry and Coach, all of which offer designer iPod cases. Coach's $98 python-skinned case sold out before it even hit stores in September 2004. A second batch of cases arrived in April and sold out immediately.
IPodLounge.com's Gear Guide has been used by Apple to track the number of available add-ons, but Larry Angell, senior editor of the independently affiliated Web site, said when it comes to popular iPod cases, he's lost track. "We stopped counting a long time ago," he said. "There are literally thousands."
"The fashion case phenomenon is impressive because it's truly grass-roots and didn't require any requests or effort from Apple," said Jeremy Horowitz, iPodLounge.com's editor in chief. "People loved the iPod and designed around it."
Luxury-automobile dealers are also looking to cash in on the craze. Mercedes-Benz USA announced in January it had created an iPod Integration Kit for many of its 2005-06 models, allowing drivers to manage their iPods from their steering wheels. Other makers, like the Volvo and BMW, are making similar efforts.
Angell said there has been speculation that the iPod will morph into a portable video player when Apple updates the device this summer.