"Starting up a product was easier than I thought," he told the crowd.
That all may be true. But one does not need to be a new-media Will.i.am to see the chance that an iPhone add-on -- or the larger trend of betting on said celebrities as gadget rainmakers -- making any real money is almost incomprehensibly small.
"Will.i.am is definitely a success story in making money in the music business," Smits said. "But selling pricey iPhone parts, that's going to be a challenge."
One-hit tech wonder
Will.i.am's -- and investors' -- challenges with products such as foto.sosho start with the new reality of celebrity-branded electronics. Get over it, but fame is just another form of intellectual property looking for its next connect in the crowded digital slum.
To name just a few, The Bob Marley estate now ships a full line of darn good headphones, boom boxes and apparel under the
House of Marley
brand. Heavy metal act
sells some decent headphones. And then there is
Ludacris' Soul line
, which counts no less than Tim Tebow and Usain Bolt as branded sponsors.
That would be merely stiff competition save for one fact: headphones take advantage of a rare gap in electronics: the contempt Steve Jobs must have had for audio quality. For reasons nobody has ever explained,
(AAPL - Get Report)
devices including iPods, iPhones and iPads ship with what I find to be some of the worst-quality earphones on the market. That leaves space for new entrants, a space that simply doesn't exist in smartphone imaging peripherals.
Never mind that in-phone cameras and apps are becoming ludicrously powerful (ever heard of Instagram?). Will.i.am competes with a tidal wave of iPhoto add-ons. Take
, which sells a $30 iPhone lens from Hong Kong-based Holga that takes surprisingly interesting photos with a simple snap-on color wheel. Or, for $70, try the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based
, a three-in-one iPhone lens that also takes darn good pictures.
"It is going to be hard to see what a $400 iPhone camera will do in this market," Smits told me.
I dig Will.i.am's track
Scream & Shout
as much as the next wanna-be DJ. But he's far from the only star peddling his name in technology. Far bigger names including Serena Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bono, Justin Bieber and Kanye West (and, in a different way, Justin Timberlake with MySpace) all are flogging tech bets.
"I made this thing because I don't want to be a rapper anymore," Will.i.am joked on the Las Vegas stage. Considering what those performers make -- and the tough road he's chosen for himself in electronics, he might want to keep his options open.
A simple iPhone camera just ain't gonna go platinum here in the digital hood.