iPod Killers for Christmas Part I

By Richard Menta 10/14/04

I guess I found it funny when the first line in MPIO's press release started with "a leading global brand of portable digital audio devices". If the recent research by NPD is correct about how dominant the Apple iPod is in the US, it only takes a tiny slice of the market place to be among the leading. For example, in HD-based players Rio holds the number two position with 2.5% of the market and Creative Labs with 2.3%. Number one goes to the iPod with 92%. Include flash players and that number is still a very healthy 65.8% for Apple.

I guess this shows what an uphill battle the iPod competition has when they, combined, have to share only a small percentage of the market. But it is a growing market and one where everyone has their sights on taking a few percentage points back from Apple. In fact, if you combine all the marketing budgets of the myriad of contenders out there, one has to wonder how sustainable 92% of the HD-based player market is. The answer is that it isn't and that is why most everyone is targeting it. Apple's players are going to remain dominant for the short and medium run, but everyone is positioning for a piece of a lucrative long run.

To do this these manufacturers are coming out with a slew of products for the holidays, all looking to see which features stick with consumers. MPIO is but one of dozens of manufacturers ranging from seasoned veterans like Creative Labs to newcomers as disparate as SanDisk and Roc-A-Fella records. More important, these players do a better job of mimicking the iPod's favorable dimesion/weight/capacity statistics, the Apple's most desireable feature. They are also offering iPod looks and colors.

Of note, Ogg Vorbis is making some significant progress in the market as a number of manufacturers are turning to the open source codec to draw Ogg fans. Likewise Microsoft's new rent-a song digital rights management (DRM) scheme is starting to find hardware adopters, mostly so they can at least grab Napster users who hold almost 10% of the paid download market.

So here is the first round of contenders. The second and possibly third round will follow soon.

Archos Gmini XS200

Archos is touting this unit as the worlds smallest 20 GB player. The numbers are pretty impressive with dimensions of 2.9 inches by 2.3 inches by 0.7 inches going against the iPod 20GB's 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.57 inches. Selling at $250, the same price as Apple's iPod Mini, the Gmini XS200 supports supports MP3, WMA and WAV audio files.

A key feature that Archos is promoting is the ARCLibrary, which allows users to alter file names as well as transfer tunes to different folders from within the unit.

The unit works with both Macs and PC's and will be ship at the end of October. Our experience with past Archos players has been excellent and we expect the XS200 to be one of the stronger competitors this season.

The Archos Gmini XS200 is available on Amazon

Olympus MR 500i and MR100

Olympus MR-500i

Olympus MR-100

Olympus enters the MP3 arena with two new iPod targeted units. The flagship player will be the Olympus 500i.This unit uses a 20GB hard drive and plays both music and photo files on its 3.7" color VGA display. This should match up well to the "Photo iPod" that has been circulating on the rumor mill the last several days.

One of the more interesting features, the 500i has a remix-your-images mode that allows the user to create a slide show combining their pictures timed against selected music. Utilizing templates embedded in the unit users can edit photo/music sequences together right from the player's interface. A built-in camera can be used to create musical photo montages on the spot.

Following the iPod's all white scheme with a white/black high contrast look the MR-500i uses touch screen GUI technology as an answer to the iPod's scroll wheel. The unit comes with a remote and plays both MP3 and WMA files.

The Olympus MR-100 targets the iPod Mini offering a 5GB drive and like the MR-500i it handles MP3 and WMA files. The MR-100 uses an electrostatic pad to navigate through song selections and offers a remote control.

Both players facilitate transfers through a USB 2.0 connection, but are limited to Windows-only devices. Windows 2000/XP are supported, but it looks like Win98 is not for those with older, but still active machines.

Creative Zen Micro

Creative's answer to the iPod Mini and complement to the Zen Touch, which challenges the full sized iPod. Like the iPod Mini, the Zen Micro comes in ten colors and offers 5GB of capacity. The Zen Micro offers an FM radio with broadcast record capabilities and voice record capabilities. I find compelling the simple fact that the rechargeable battery is removeable.

Dimensions of the player are 2" by 3.3" by 0.7" versus the Mini's 3.6" by 2.0" by 0.5". Creative claims a 12 hour battery life on the Zen Micro and offers PDA capabilities that can sync to Microsoft outlook. The unit supports MP3 and Microsoft's WM 10 DRM files for those like their players encumbered with a digital rights management scheme (those who want to play the songs they buy on Napster will need this. Napster also charges an extra fee for tunes that an play on a portable). Interesting note on the price, the Zen Micro will retail for $280, $30 more than the iPod Mini.

Creative Zen Micro is available on Amazon


Creative Muvo Micro N200

Creative is also introducing a new line of high capacity flash portables. Called the Muvo Micro N200 the units come in 256MB, 512MB and 1GB versions selling for ell for $99, $129 and $179 respectively. $179 for the 1GB model is particularly aggressive pricing. The players come in at 1.32" by 2.58" by .51" and weigh just over one ounce. The unit runs on a single AAA battery and like the Zen micro supports MP3 and WM 10 files. Availablility for the new player will not be until November 26th, just a few weeks before Christmas.

Creative Muvo Micro N200

Virgin Player

Virgin Player

Another newcomer to the digital player arena is Virgin. Their first portable is the 3.1oz Virgin player, half an inch lighter than the iPod Mini's 3.6oz. The player also offers an extra GB of space coming in at 5GB for the same $250 price tag.

The player is bundled with Virgin Digital, their iTunes competing download service that gives the player a joint portable/music service edge not enjoyed by the likes of Rio and Creative who are making units that accomodate other's services.

The Virgin player handles the standard MP3 and WMA formats. The unit also has a built-in FM tuner and dual headphone jacks, the latter a feature meant for sharing I suppose. The Virgin Player will be available in stores by the end of October.

MPIO Goes Ogg Vorbis

The MPIO FL300, among several now claiming to be the world's smallest and lightest MP3 player, starts it off. A simple flash unit the FL300 comes in a copper and chrome clad skin that holds either 256MB or 512MB of memory. Offering voice record capabilities the unit is powered by a litium-polymer battery and weighs under an ounce. Dimensions are 1.18"(W) x 1.96"(H) x 0.5". Prices are $99.99 for 128MB and $129.99 for 256 MB.

The MPIO FY400 offers the high end of the flash portable market adding an FM tuner and a top end capacity of 1GB. The FY400 is powered by a AAA battery. Dimensions are 1.18"(W) x 3.14"(H) x 0.82"(D) and the unit weighs in at 1.3 oz. The FY400 has an SRP of $119.99 for 128MB, $149.99 for 256MB, and $219.99 for 1GB.

The MPIO HD300 is the new top of the line unit. Both the FY400 and the FL300 play the MP3, WMA (WM 10), and ASF formats. The HD300 adds Ogg Vorbis support to the mix, a codec that is seing greater adoption lately among digital music portables.

Selling for $279, the HD300 offers 20GB HD capacity along with an FM tuner and voice record. Additionally, MPIO HD300 comes with "Walk Office," a suite of suite of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation graphics applications. The player comes in at 2.36"(W) x 4.09"(H) x 0.66"(D) and 5.6oz, comparable to the bigger iPod player.

MPIO FL300 is available on Amazon

The 20GB MPIO HD300 is available on Amazon


The 20GB Archos Gmini 400 Digital Audio/Video Jukebox is available on Amazon

Other MP3 stories:
iPod Killers for Christmas Part II
iPod Killers for Christmas Part III
iPod Killers for Christmas Part IV
iPod Killers for Christmas Part V

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