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Bose is betting on fashion to compete with Beats

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Since the passing of Dr. Amar Bose, the company's founder and an audio pioneer, Bose has had to face a period of emotional adjustment. On the business side, meanwhile, the incredible rise of Beats Electronics meant Bose needed to carve out a whole new strategy for the consumer market. While some audiophiles would argue that Bose offers the better product between the two, no one can hide the enormous popularity of Beats headphones amongst your average Joes. Perhaps, this is what led to Bose suing Beats over alleged noise-canceling patent infringements earlier this year, in a lawsuit that's since been settled out of court. Strangely enough, Bose didn't take action until after Apple announced it was acquiring Beats Electronics for $3 billion -- was it pure coincidence? You be the judge.

But, what's next for Bose? And what's happening now? I had a chance to chat with CEO and President Bob Maresca about the company's plans to take on competitors and how it can adapt to the younger audiophile market.

Gallery: Bose over the years | 15 Photos

So can you tell me a little bit about what Bose has been working on? I know you have the new QuietComforts and, recently, you had the NFL deal with the noise-canceling headphones.

Yeah. I mean, we have a lot of stuff going on in research and I know you can appreciate that. I can't divulge that, but there is so much opportunity now for us with regard to how the world's changing; how people are listening to music, getting their music from the cloud. Four hundred million mobile devices are sold each year, and we're gonna be there when they wanna put a headphone on or get a wireless speaker.

"We traditionally have been in the living room or in cars, where you have a lot more size and weight you can deal with. Portable products are a bigger challenge."

Would I ever put in the size, the weight, and the cost of a good sound system in this [mobile device], and have to carry it around all the time? And most of the time I'm not using it as an information device. The answer to that is no. These things are never gonna have good sound in them because they won't have the space. But during that 10 or 20 percent of the time that you want good sound, we want people hearing that sound through a Bose headphone or a wireless speaker, so it's a great opportunity to be more mobile. We traditionally have been in the living room or in cars, where you have a lot more size and weight you can deal with. Portable products are a bigger challenge.

Do you think you'll eventually collaborate with other companies? You know, Dolby does things with Atmos, where it has integrated its audio technology in Amazon tablets. Something like that, maybe?

If you look at our Sound Touch systems, first, there are great acoustics. But, the real value that you get is, you know, we can get music anywhere now; from music services, from stored music and internet radio stations. But it's complex. We can use our software and user interface expertise to boil that down to a single touch of music. Of course, we're always going to provide great audio experience, but we wanna make that experience much easier to get at. We wanna simplify it for people so they can enjoy their music seamlessly.

And that relates to the new services that you have partnered with, like Deezer and Spotify?

Yeah, and it's moving fast. There are new services all the time, so our job is never done.

Lastly, the big elephant in the room is obviously Beats. I know you can't talk litigation matters, but as you know, there are a lot of people who still prefer the Bose brand. At the same time, though, more and more people nowadays are using headphones for [fashion] rather than the sound. What are you trying to do to compete? How can you reach those people that aren't audiophiles; who care more about the looks of the product?

"It's about creating products that have real benefits to people. And if the benefits are fashion, then that's our job."

That's a great question. I think of it more as about us understanding our customers rather than competing with another company, [because] I can't control what they do. What we need to do is understand our customers, and we have a lot of new customers now, particularly with our wireless Bluetooth speakers. We're getting millions of customers in the 18-30 age range that don't know us that well. And we're trying to, of course, always have the best audio, best noise cancellation, good quality, good reliability.

But also, we want fashion, so you'll see many more headsets with color. I love our white Bluetooth headset. I saw it on my daughter last night -- it was spectacular. So, as we learn those customers and study their needs, we are gonna evolve product lines to meet their needs, and that's what we do all the time. It's about creating products that have real benefits to people. And if the benefits are fashion, then that's our job.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

[Lead image credit: Bose]

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