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Friday, December 30, 2005

Dressing up your iPod to suit your personality

Within the rich ecosystem of iPod gizmos, the flora and fauna take exotic forms: glowing pink fish from Japan, scratchproof skins from Germany and snowball puffs of mohair from the United States that transform sleek gadgets into instant cuddle buddies.

It is the i-cology of Apple Computer's little white music players, which have spawned a flourishing colony of gear that can make over an iPod into everything from a floating lily pad to a pinpoint laser beam.

Some multimedia firms, like Buongiorno Vitaminic, an Italian company that sells mobile content, services and devices, liken this kind of personalization to retrofitting basic jeans.

These are "mass-produced products that are universal regardless of sex or age," according to a new Buongiorno study of the use of mobile services and digital accessories, "products that are lived and experienced by their users as an expression of their unique individuality long before they are considered as a fashion statement."

IPod mobile players have given instant life to companies like Artwizz, a Berlin start-up that offers high-style white accessories like headphones, scratch-stopper shields and its most popular, but unglamorous, item: USB power plugs for recharging.

"We started with one simple fan light, then headphones, and now we're coming out with more," said Frank Kroug, the company's director of marketing. "It's building up rapidly with the popularity of iPods, but also because Apple is no longer distributing all the accessories with the iPod."

Michael Eden, the product developer for Artwizz, totes around an iPod to study daily wear and tear. To test the company's scratch-stopper shields, he said he ground a key into one iPod that emerged unscathed. Now he's planning on introducing special polish cream - ordinarily used on BMW windows - that can be employed to grind away nicks on iPod nano screeens. More accessories are in development, and the company is counting on cresting for a few years with iPod popularity.

More than 30 million iPods have shipped since the device's introduction four years ago, according to Apple. The company sold 22.5 million iPods in the 12 months that ended in September, an increase of 409 percent from the 4.4 million sold in the previous 12 months.

Net sales of iPod-related products - which include Apple's own accessories and iTunes Music Store downloads - increased $621 million or 223 percent.

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