Originally posted 6-5-05, updated 6-7-05: New pictures of Oregon Scientific’s first StyleFi system, the Music Element, have just been added to the end of this article. Click on Read More for the shots and details.

Imagine that you’re running a successful company that’s in the business of selling fashionable and useful consumer electronics. Out of nowhere, the iPod shows up, grabs lots of attention, and basically redefines luxury technology because it’s both super fashionable and super useful. Suddenly your company has two choices: compete against the iPod, or make accessories for it. The stronger Apple becomes, the greater the chance that a given company will pick the latter option instead of the former.

Oregon Scientific is one such company. For sixteen years, it’s been selling the sorts of gadgets that wind up in Sharper Image catalogs – most notably, a series of stylish clock and weather devices that people have been buying for their homes. The last five years have seen it expand into a surprisingly robust array of different product categories: cameras, phones, watches, scales, and – wait for it – music players. Like the models below: a waterproof, flash memory-based MP3 player with packed-in waterproof headphones (“MP120”), and a credit-card sized player/recorder/radio with a completely transparent LCD screen (“MP210”). Both use mini-USB ports for charging and data transferring. The credit card one is so thin that it’s hard to believe headphones can plug into its top, but they can. And there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of either of them, or the company’s other three interesting MP3 players, either.

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With this expansion also came decisions to enhance the company’s branding and aesthetic designs, including the hiring of a top designer from Bose, and a smart reworking of the company’s logo and international web sites. Then there was the collaboration with Philippe Starck, one of the few tech product designers who actually seems to have a clue about making gadgets look cool. Remember that one good Microsoft mouse? That was his. He designed the clock below for Oregon Scientific, too.

 

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For more on the company and its plans for the iPod market, click on Read More below.
There are more than occasional sparks of coolness in the company’s current lineup of products, as well as some issues. The MP210’s transparent screen and chrome parts, for example, are instantly eye-catching and unique, but easily show scratches and smears; its metal body has an industrial look that isn’t bad, but the overall look and feel isn’t distinct enough from common inexpensive Asian consumer electronics.

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Thankfully, it looks like design is becoming increasingly important to Oregon Scientific, as evidenced by Milan (aka the BAR289A, below), an as-yet unreleased product from the company’s European-influenced clock and weather station line. The difference between Milan and the company’s more functional designs (say, this or this) is huge.

 

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Updated! The next step is iPod and audio accessories. As shown in the newly-released pictures below, Oregon Scientific’s design team has some seriously impressive new tricks up its sleeve. These are the first shots of one of the company’s new “StyleFi” audio systems, the Music Element, planned for release in the very near future. While different in the particulars from the company’s first upcoming iPod accessory, its slick looks and smart use of acrylic should give you some sense of where the StyleFi line is going. (Our only pause – NXT speakers, which appear to be unique to this particular product.)

 

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All of the StyleFi offerings are cooler visually than any of the stuff Oregon Scientific has done before, Starck included, and they represent a significantly different style from the all-white glossy plastic add-ons we see so much of. Frankly, we’d like to see other iPod accessory makers follow the same visual design cues: clean, modern, and bold. We hope to bring you more in the near future on the iPod-specific offering, which is planned for a Fall release. Stay tuned.