Parrot is a difficult company to define.
The French wireless products manufacturer has made a name for itself selling hands free car systems, yet at the same time, it has crossed over to the electronic toy space with its AR.Drone quadrocopter.
Now, Parrot has mixed things up further by getting its foot into the consumer headphone space with its Zik product.
To Parrot CEO and founder, Henri Seydoux, all of these ventures are a natural extension for a business that started up in 1994 as a software company specialising in wireless technologies and digital signal processing.
“Since then we have continued to develop products and solutions for consumers,” Seydoux said.
“Our field of possibilities is, by definition, very large.”
Parrot, in particularly in Australia, has built its reputation as a provider of in-car communication systems, which began back in 2001 with the company’s first wireless hands-free system for vehicles.
Seydoux says this was based on the company’s foresight into the rise of mobile phones in people’s everyday lives, as well as the overall evolution of mobile phone and mobile technologies.
As such, Seydoux emphasises that the development of in-car wireless communication systems is still Parrot’s core business.
“The heightened usage and capabilities offered by mobile phones, and more recently smartphones, has led us to the creation of multimedia and entertainment products,” he said.
Parrot’s journey into personal audio would gain further steam in 2009 with the launch of its Zikmu wireless stereo speakers, before it diverged to the toy space in 2010 with the release of its AR.Drone quadricopter, which can be piloted using the Wi-Fi of a smartphone or tablet.
Seydoux says that “innovation is central” to everything that Parrot does.
“Similarly, all of our products work with mobile phones, which use constantly evolving technology and are affordable, easy to use and dedicated to enhancing the lives of consumers,” he said.
As to how Parrot allocates its resources between its different endeavours, Seydoux says the company invests typically between 10 to 12 per cent into research and development each year, not only to maintain and evolve existing products, but also to investigate new routes and ideas.
“It varies from product to product, but we can spend between three to five years on the development of any one product,” he said.
When it came to the Zik headphones released this year, Seydoux says it took it more than three years to develop them.
“The Zik headphones are virtually one of the hardest things that we have ever imagined, since headphones are, in some ways, the most banal,” he said.
While the introduction of Zik takes Parrot out of its comfort zone of in-car wireless communication systems, Seydoux says the product follows the company’s philosophy of not creating anything but instead reinventing it.
“Zik is consistent with our approach and vision to develop wireless consumer products equipped with strong technologies,” he said.
“We are also attempting to offer consumers better quality and more features than people usually expect from headphones.”
Where Zik fits in
For Parrot to throw its gauntlet down in the headphone space, the company obviously had to see an opportunity in the market.
For Seydoux, it was about providing the best in the headphones category in terms of both features and style with Zik.
“We invest in markets where we see an opportunity to realise our vision, as well as true technological innovations and true value for consumers,” he said.
From a technological perspective, Parrot aimed to do this by incorporating features such as active noise cancelling, a touch panel to control playback, a head detection sensor, a bone conduction sensor, five microphones and a digital signal processor.
However, releasing a new product in a segment that is already dominated by established brands is not for the faint hearted, and Seydoux concedes that putting out a consumer product is not an easy task.
“Launching any product is always a challenge, but we do believe in our strengths,” he said.
Fortunately, the company has already had some experience in this regard with its wireless peripherals for mobile phones, a segment where it has become the leader in the field of in-car hands-free telephony.
Seydoux says the company’s earlier experimentations with the Zikmu wireless speaker gave it additional insight into consumer market, as well as the surprise success of its AR.Drone product.
“We’ve benefited from the media’s warm response to the extension of our range of connected products for the car,” he said.
For the longest time, headphones have tended to practical in their design and construction, meaning that the appearance would be quite unassuming if not plain boring.
Zik, however, immediately stands out due to the stylish design, courtesy of famed French designer, Philippe Starck.
Starck, who is famed for his hotel and restaurant interior designs, started his collaboration with Parrot in 2008 by creating the Zikmu wireless speakers.
This partnership extended to the development of the Zik headphones, and Starck naturally wanted to leave his mark on the product by making them stylish and unique through his design philosophy.
In a market where most headphones are indistinguishable from the other, making Zik more stylish over the competition may seem like a strategic move, but Seydoux says it is more than that.
“It was not only a question of design and not only a question of functionality, as we envisage products as a whole” he said.
However, when it came to visualising the design for Zik, Seydoux says Parrot immediately turned to Starck for it.
“[Starck] has a lot of talent and we already had the experience of working together on the Zikmu,” he said.
“He also knows how to do furniture, glasses, watches, and other fashion accessories, and Zik, in our opinion, is also one.”
When it comes to describing the Zik design concept, Seydoux breaks it down into “simple, elegant and timeless.”
The choice of materials was also important for the design due to their associated aesthetic qualities.
“The soft-touch earpieces, the aluminium, and the zinc give the product a high-end, exclusive, and even sensual look,” Seydoux said.
While Seydoux says design is not the key behind Zik, he admits that “design is part of the experience.”
More to Zik
Zik made its debut at CES 2012 in Lax Vegas before it went on sale in the second half of the year.
While Seydoux is unable to provide any figures on how the headphones have performed following launch, he does say the company is “very happy” with the reception Zik has received worldwide.
Australia was one of the regions where Zik was launched, though Seydoux says it is difficult to say at the moment which specific feature of the product has resonated the most with locals.
He does say the general feedback about Zik has been that the headset is “well thought-out.”
With its unique design and range of capabilities, Parrot has positioned Zik as a premium consumer product, meaning the product’s success potentially rests on whether the public is receptive to the idea of having a pair of Starck designed headphones that look different from the rest.
With Zik out on the market, it has also caused some people to ponder what Parrot has next in store in the audio space with its partnership with Starck, such as Zik branded earbuds.
“Parrot is an innovative company and we’re certainly working on several projects,” Seydoux said.
“However, we are not going to say a word about them until just the right moment.”