A boutique PC for only $50,000

Big OEMs seek couture inspiration

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In the cut throat world of PC retail, where margins are razor thin, major OEMs are looking at a small boutique outfit with close interest. Truvia's designer PC, which blends furniture with a high-end desktop from VoodooPC, doesn't immediately look like a promising avenue for the big box shifters. Truvia's custom PCs start at $50,000. But there is a market for such kit, founder John Wojewidka told us, before flying out to the 'soft launch' at CES this week.

"Some of the furniture goes for between $30,000 and $70,000 just for the desks. Mark Levinson, who is working on the designs with us, sells speakers for $50,000.

"The justification is very emotional. Every piece is going to be unique. On the inside, we're going to adjust the technology to each situation," he told us.

Truvia will design the furniture you want around a high end PC. The actual PC hardware is expensive, but not that expensive, of course. The specifications from VoodooPC might typically include a terabyte of space, two TV tuners and fans allowing the machine to operate inaudibly. But it's the custom fit and finish that justifies the tag, according to Wojewidka. Each one takes several months to complete, and Truvia has its first customer. The founder says he'd be happy knocking out a couple of units a month.

On the face of it then, it sounds like a way of depriving people with more money than sense of their cash. But the story only starts here. There's clearly a demand, particularly from women, for design that makes technology disappear. If PC vendors want to stake a place in the living room or the bedroom, they need to alter their approach to design radically. Some, including HP, already know this, says Wojewidka.

"Women do not want to see the technology but would like a beautifully turned out box. They do not want to see an overt technology statement."

"Ideo love to show off the technology, but the way the market works is that roughly 85 per cent of people buying furniture are buying conservative furniture, and not a lot of steel and glass."

The trick, he thinks, is to find a magic price point, which he believes is around $5,000 to $6,000 and then integrate the OEM's technology into their products.

Media Centers "look like crap now", he reckons, "and in fact they don't work that great either. So to put one of those in the bedroom is a little bit of a stretch."

But doesn't Apple, with beautifully designed computers, have some difficulty expanding beyond three per cent market share? Wojewidka doesn't agree.

"Apple nailed their target market; it's very much an iconic aesthetic and it's worked out fabulously; I'm a big fan of the high tech clean look. But my wife looks at a new iMac and thinks 'iMac Schmimac!'. It just isn't going to happen. While Apple has found a place to live and make money, I think there's a whole other market there that hasn't been addressed at all."

Whether people want such complicated PCs in the bedroom, let alone the living room, is another question - and probably one beyond any designer's hands. But good design for the mass market is a vanishing feature, and surely the beige box brigade can do worse than listen closely. ®

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