Beats Electronics and Monster Cable Products, two companies that together defined the current $1-billion headphone industry with the Beats by Dr. Dre line, are parting ways at the end of the year.
But before the two become competitors in a segment of consumer electronics that is just as much about fashion as it is technology, a wave of new Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and boom boxes (built by Monster) will hit store shelves.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, I caught up with Jimmy Iovine, Beats Electronics' chairman and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, to talk about what products the Beats brand had planned for 2012 (you can see our interview in the video above).
First up will be the new Mixr headphones, designed by Grammy-winning producer and DJ David Guetta. The Mixr is a lightweight and strong design — I twisted and bent the headband, and it returned to form and never felt week — that offers the bass-heavy sound Beats is known for. At $279, the Mixr is set to hit U.S. stores in early February in black and white. They're already available in Europe.
February will also see a wireless release of the Solo headphones, also priced at $279. And due in mid-September are the $349 Executive headphones, which bring a sleeker and more understated look with a leather headband and aluminum ear cups.
Iovine was also proud of the new BeatBox, a follow-up to the first-generation (and much less portable) BeatBox, which will sell at a price of $399. A release date hasn't yet been set for the new battery- or AC-powered BeatBox, which plays music from smartphones and MP3 players docked on the speaker setup.
Since launching in 2009, Beats has teamed with Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Sean "Diddy" Combs for artist-sponsored headphones. The Mixr is the only artist-specific set of headphones planned for 2012, Iovine said.
But this year we will see more HTC smartphones paired with Beats headphones as a result of HTC purchasing a $300-million stake in the audio company late last year, he said. And Beats speakers will be found not just in the Chrysler 300, as they were in 2011, but also in the Dodge Charger. And, as we saw at CES, Beats speakers are making their way into more HP laptops this year too.
After the Monster manufacturing deal expires at the end of the year, Beats plans to go out on its own, Iovine told my colleague Gerrick D. Kennedy on our sister blog Pop & Hiss. Despite reports to the contrary, Iovine said, the split was always the audio start-up's intention.
"It was always planned. It was always a five-year deal," Iovine said. "It was a manufacturing distribution deal. We were with Monster for headphones and speakers. It was always a plan to turn into a freestanding company."
Image: The Beats Executive headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre. Credit: Beats Electronics/Monster Cable Products
Apple landed a potentially major victory against HTC on Monday after the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in its favor and found that some of HTC's Android smartphones and tablets violated one of its patents.
In its ruling on the patent dispute between Apple and HTC, the ITC also handed down a ban on the importing of specific HTC Android devices that goes into affect April 19, 2012.
The decision doesn't specifically call for an import ban on phones running newer versions of Android such as 2.3 Gingerbread, 3.0 Honeycomb or the new 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Most newer HTC phones and tablets run on Android Gingerbread, and some (such as the HTC Rezound) are due for upgrades to Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
In its complaint to the ITC, Apple accused HTC of violating a number of its patents, each of which are older than smartphones themselves.
But the ITC found HTC in violation of only one of Apple's patents — patent 5,946,647, which Apple was awarded in February 1996 and covers the "system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data," or basically a patent for handling the actions that take place in the background when you do something as simple as tapping a link in an email to open it in a Web browser.
In an emailed statement, HTC lawyer Grace Lei said that the company was pleased that the ITC found that it wasn't in violation of all the patents Apple accused it of infringing. As for the one patent it was found to be in violation of — patent 5,946,647 — HTC said it would alter its use of Android to avoid the problem.
"We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it," Lei said. "However, the 647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon."
Apple officials were not available to comment on the commission ruling Monday.
From here, the ruling still has to be approved by the ITC's president, who has 60 days to sign off on the decision or veto it.
If the decision sticks and the import ban comes to fruition, HTC will still be able to sell whatever it has in the U.S. before April 19 of next year. The Taiwanese company also has until Dec. 19, 2013, to import refurbished devices "to be provided to consumers as replacements under warranty or an insurance contract (whether the warranty or contract is offered by HTC, a carrier, or by a third party)," the ITC said in its ruling.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The HTC G1, left, and Apple iPhone 4S smartphones. The G1 was one of a number of HTC smartphones found to be in violation of an Apple-owned patent. Credit: Eric Risberg / AP