NEW YORK — In 1964, Dr. Amar G. Bose formed the venerable loudspeaker company that bears his name. On this, Bose's Corporation's 50th anniversary, USA TODAY tech columnist Edward C. Baig caught up with current Bose president and CEO Bob Maresca to discuss Bose's partnership with the NFL, its relationship with Apple, and more. Comments have been edited for space and clarity.
USA TODAY: You're big into wireless Bluetooth speakers these days, but Bluetooth quality wasn't always up to par?
Maresca: We were on Bluetooth very early on. And there was a lot of questions whether it was going to catch on, whether it would use too much power, whether you get the fidelity because it used to be it wasn't full bandwidth it was just for voice communications. But it certainly has caught on.
USA TODAY: How did you react to the NFL's problems with domestic violence?
Maresca: I've been in close contact with them and we've expressed our concerns. And they've promised us that they're going to resolve these issues. It's going to take some time. They can't turn around thousands of years of domestic violence but they can have a positive impact. And the funding of the hotlines is a good step. They got to get their house in order of course, but I'm counting on them to do that.
USA TODAY: Aside from the league's off field troubles, how big a deal was it for Bose to team up with the NFL? Your technology lets coaches upstairs communicate with players and coaches on the field?
Maresca: Going back to the early 90s, we've made mission critical headsets (that) go in helmets (used in military tanks). It's so loud in there and cramped. But when they put those helmets on they can communicate clearly with their partners in the other tanks and they're much safer as a result.
The NFL came to us about two years ago asking us if we could apply our headset technology to this challenge in the NFL. We got pretty intrigued but realized it was a different environment than the tank, than an aircraft. (In football) we had all the wind, snow and the rain. And we said it's going to take us awhile to get this technology right. (The NFL) said we need it in 6 months. We said 'no, there's a lot of work to do it right.' It was our reputation on the line so we took the full 18 months. If you've ever been to Seattle or any noisy stadium it's very hard. The fact of the matter is there's only 32 teams so what are you going to sell, 500 headsets? We can develop a product and sell it to a million people.We had to find a way where it made sense for us. So we work with the NFL and there's a lot of give and take but we're happy with the partnership and I'm glad we could do it with technology we are proud of.
USA TODAY: What was your reaction when Apple bought Beats?
Maresca: There is a lot of overlap between Apple customers and Bose customers. We're similar kinds of companies that really value innovation. There's no shortage of speculation as to why Apple bought Beats. And it won't surprise you that Apple didn't ask my opinion or inform me that they were going to buy Beats. The relationship with Apple gets a little bit more complex but we've got a longstanding relationship with them back to the late 90s when we were putting sound systems in their 20th anniversary Mac edition. We have a good relationship, common customers, we're talking and we're working things out.
USA TODAY: Bose has steered clear of the hip-hop celebrity designer type headphones?
Maresca: We've had to carve our own path. We're not going to all of a sudden try to be cool. We're engineers.
USA TODAY: But it did change the game?
Maresca: Of course it did. You'll see now—you can customize our products. First and foremost we will have excellent audio quality, player reproduction, great noise cancellation, great reliability, great customer service. But we're also going to have more contemporary designs. All of a sudden now you're aggregating music from the cloud, from music services, from Internet radio stations. It's a huge opportunity for us to generate a quality audio performance for people who may not have appreciated what it was about. My daughter is 25. I have a son who is 22. Fashion is important to them. They want products that are stylish and for many years we made things that were silver and black. And believe me I got grief from my wife and my daughter saying `your headphones are great dad but can you make something other than silver and black?'
As we've gotten to the mobile space, we want to be accessible to more people—it's a huge opportunity for us. If we can reach them with more attainable price points but still in category be the best performance for that price point we can maintain what is core to us, which is delivering value to our customers. We're never going to be the cheapest in the category but we better be the best in the category.
USA TODAY: You're a private company. How's business?
Maresca: With the explosion of music on mobile devices we're growing and creating lots of opportunities… with new customers. They're my kids and my nieces and nephews. We're now relevant to a much much broader set of customers. We're serving an order of magnitude 10 times more (customers today) than we did 14 years ago. This is a great time to be at Bose.
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