Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Personal Computer Suddenly Gets Personal 'Aftermarket' Swells as Buyers Jazz Up PCs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Personal Computer Suddenly Gets Personal 'Aftermarket' Swells as Buyers Jazz Up PCs

Article excerpt

Personal computers have become the cars of the 1990s. Like autos in their early days, PCs used to be boring, one color, box-shaped, appreciated mostly for their practical use.

Now the PC is rapidly on its way to becoming a mass-market appliance, with users looking to "personalize" their box with the computer equivalent of whitewall tires and leather steering-wheel covers. Buyers are looking to jazz up their machines with everything from bright designer colors to a mouse with a customized trackball.

"The PC has been consumerized," says Mark Dwight, director of product development at Kensington Microware, a leading maker of computer accessories. "The Internet will drive a lot of that." The proliferation of PCs into homes, offices, and small businesses is propelling the growth of what some analysts have dubbed the computer "aftermarket." The term encompasses the sale of a wide variety of peripheral items including joysticks, wrist pads, surge protectors, keyboard drawers, notebook carrying cases, and storage cases for CD-ROM or floppy disks. At trade shows like the annual giant Comdex gathering in Las Vegas this week, the attention tends to go to fancy hardware. But the computer "aftermarket" reached about $700 million in sales in 1994, according to research by Venture Development Corp. It will reach $1.2 billion in 1999 in the United States and exceed $2 billion globally, the firm predicts. "Now that people are spending hours in front of the computer, it matters that your monitor be at the right height or that your mouse is a compatible one for you," says Peter Dupont, president of Kensington, the No. 1 US provider of branded aftermarket products. Mr. Dupont cites marketing studies to divide consumers into two groups. There are the "functional users," people who are looking for accessories that simply get the job done best. The growing market is among the "personalizers" who want to dress up their workplace, whether at home or office, to reflect their personality. "Consumers have these products in their homes, and because the products are becoming more designed, people are asking, 'Why do I have to have this crummy-looking disk box next to my computer," says Stephen Baker, who analyzes this market for International Data Corp. …

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