From geeky to glamorous: Gadgets for her

Designers are tapping into the market for female-friendly gadgets – such as netbooks – that fit in a handbag. Rachel Shields reports
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The Independent Tech

Most stylish clutch bags hold a lipstick, credit card and a set of house keys at most. Designer Vivienne Tam's peony-print clutch has a much greater capacity: at least 60 gigabytes.

When the world's first "digital clutch" went on sale in Harrods yesterday, it was to be found in the electronics department, rather than amid the rows of other designer bags. Pretty, practical, and pinkish, the HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam is the latest attempt by electronics companies to cash in on a burgeoning market for chic, female-friendly technology.

The computer firm Hewlett-Packard (HP), which makes the device, claims it provides "a full couture experience", with co-ordinated graphics, accessories, and matching protective sleeve. Based on the Hong Kong-born designer's "China chic" style, it is being billed as "a bold fashion statement for cosmopolitan women".

Susi Weaser, editor of ShinyShiny, a technology website aimed at women, said the new clutch represents "the first time that a well-known fashion designer has actually designed something like this, not just stuck a flower on it or something". She added: "Women want gadgets that work well and look good, and we shouldn't have to sacrifice one for the other. Apple has got a lot to do with it: the iPhone looks so good it is untrue."

HP is not the first electronics firm, however, to disguise what have traditionally been considered geeky, functional products as glamorous accessories. When Philips teamed up with Swarovski to produce a USB key hidden in a heart pendant on a silver silk cord, the collaboration was hugely successful, despite the hefty £103 price tag.

High-end fashion designers, including Armani and Prada, have also put their names to sleek mobile phones. "Designers often get involved in unusual collaborations, especially in the technological field. It takes them out of their comfort zone and produces some interesting results. The Prada/LG phone is the epitome of chic," said Emma Elwick, markets editor at Vogue magazine.

According to figures from market research agency GFK, 8.3 million laptops were sold last year in the UK, 600,000 of which were netbooks. That share looks set to increase this year, with total laptop sales also expected to grow to 9.7 million – a market worth £4bn. Sony also recently entered the market with the purse-sized Vaio P laptop, which is 6.9 inches long and 0.8 inches thick. Although the Vaio P is one of the lightest laptops on the market, weighing in at only 1lb 6oz, the basic model costs a hefty £849.

The mini-laptop or netbook is tipped to be the fastest-growing gadget of 2009. Small, efficient, and usually cheaper than their full-size contemporaries, they are especially popular among women, as they are small enough to fit inside a handbag. "Size is important. Things like women's magazines are all handbag-sized now," said Jane Zeal of HP.

But some question whether the designer clutch and similar glamorous netbooks offer real value for money, or if consumers are just paying for the label. At £449, the Mini Vivienne Tam is expensive for a 10in screen, Intel Atom 1.6 Ghz processor, 60-gigabyte hard drive, webcam and Bluetooth connectivity.

Some computer experts are unimpressed with its technical credentials. "Ask HP execs why the HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam edition costs $275 (£202) more than an identically configured HP Mini 1000 – both of which are very good netbooks – and they just smile," said John Morris, editor of PC Magazine. But Ms Weaser insisted specification comes secondary to style: "If you buy an Armani suit you'll pay over the odds for it; the same goes for a laptop."

As consumers grow more technically savvy and demanding, electronics firms that are unable to provide unique technological features are seeking fashion or celebrity endorsement of their gadgets to help to boost sales. U2 has signed a range of iPods, while Samsung has its Beyoncé-endorsed B'phone. And celebrites customising their mobile phones with Swarovski crystals, as the model Kimberly Stewart has done, add a touch of feminine bling.