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Fabrics and textiles are giving electronics a softer look

What's New? | October 29, 2018 | By:

An article on Slate says that a number of companies are opting for using textiles in the electronic products they make. While much of the tech world is still made of glass, aluminum, plastic, and composites, textiles are emerging as a stylish way to accessorize and protect the tech used by consumers in their homes. A “smorgasbord of products” announced by  Amazon announced  last month included the Echo Dot and Echo Plus, smart speakers that  are now wrapped in fabric.

Google Home devices have embraced this style. Apple’s HomePod also has a fabric-covered alternative and Ikea’s smart speaker favors the cloth-fronted look. Speakers have used cloth on their grilles for decades, but smart speaker manufacturers have used the idea in more creative form factors.

The trend has also spread to other types of gadgets. Microsoft uses a suede-like fabric called Alcantara on its Surface tablets and PCs, including the Surface Go that debuted this summer. A wearable tracker, the Spire Health Tag, also forgoes typical tech materials in favor of a soft Ultrasuede exterior. As this device is designed to be worn next to the skin, fabric offers greater comfort and flexibility.

The latest product to get the cloth treatment is the home printer. HP’s $199 Tango X is a smart home printer with a “wrap” covered in soft materials. This wrap has three functions: décor–coordinating color, it acts as a landing pad for printed pages and it functions as an on-off button for the printer, sending the device into sleep mode when it’s shut. When the printer is encased in the wrap, it looks more like a large book than a small printer, helping it blend into a bookcase or office shelf.

The use of cloth in and around our electronics is part of a greater trend of companies designing products that better blend into our daily lives. Samsung’s Frame TVs are an example of this—the screen masquerades as a large art or picture frame when not in use. On the opposite end of the product spectrum, the geodesic dome–styled Norton Core secure Wi-Fi router looks nothing like a router or a gadget at all.

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