By Richard Menta 11/2/12
Apple has all but obliterated the stand alone MP3 player competition to a point where once popular brands like Creative and SanDisk have been replaced in stores like Target and WallMart with brands whose names I have never seen before. For over a decade Archos made some of the most groundbreaking portable devices. For example, in 2002 they were the first to introduce an MP3 player that also played video, The Archos Multimedia Jukebox, inventing the PMP or Portable Media Player. They also released the pre-iPad Archos Internet Media Tablet in a prescient bid (by two years) that touchscreens and Net surfing blend perfectly together.
It was still Apple who got all of the spoils, though early adopters have kept Archos not just in business, but in a position to innovate. Well, innovate in whatever niche areas Apple's competition can find in a bid to chisel away whatever market share they can from the world's most popular brand.
The latest niche Archos has targeted is Android gaming. Dubbed the GamePad, Archos hopes to tap into a sizeable market that is long shifting away from $40 Nintendo and Sony portable game cartridges to $0.99 iOS and Android apps.
A big part of this transition is a return to gaming control buttons as an option when touchscreen reaction is just not crisp enough. In one sense it seems soooooo pre-2010. In another it acknowledges that while touchscreen has its advantages over physical controls, but there are also negatives that that are best solved by tactile input mechanisms. Analog has its fans, even among people who use tablets mostly for book reading and web surfing.
The Archos GamePad sports some interesting specs. Interesting, in that it will run an older version of Android (3.x Ice Cream Sandwich) despite the release of Android 4.0 this past summer. The GamePad is powered by a dual-core processor @ 1.5 GHz of unknown provinence combined with a Mali 400mp quad-core graphics processor. The display is 7" 1024 x 600 res capacitive touchscreen. The unit's low $149 price tag explains why the modest specs, again interesting because for years Archos served the highest end of the market.
The real question is whether developers will create enough titles to take full advantage of physical controls in the coming future. Relative to Apple, Archos is a low volume producer and alone is not enough to sway many developers. Already, developers are slow to build for Windows 8 simply because they don't want to write for yet another mobile OS. Android has huge market penetration, but Archos may find itself in the unenviable position of having to wait for everyone else to follow its lead before game controller support is written into most titles. In other words, when an wide-open niche with potential becomes crowded with offerings.