January 6, 2006 4:00 AM PST

iPod rivals ready for prime time at last?

(continued from previous page)

This year's would-be iPod rivals are a far more diverse bunch than in the past, often blending sets of features drawn from wholly different markets.

The most obvious candidates are MP3 players from companies such as SanDisk, Samsung, iRiver, Creative Labs and Sony. SanDisk is currently in second place, with 7.8 percent market share of flash-based and hard-drive players taken together, compared with Apple's 69 percent, according to market researcher NPD Group. Those figures represent sales from January to November of 2005. (SanDisk has about 29 percent of the flash-based market--which excludes players with hard drives--while Apple has about 49 percent, according to NPD.)

"We've been pretty encouraged by the devices we've seen. We think they're headed in the right direction."
--Bill Pence
CTO, Napster

SanDisk's new Sansa line of players, which come in 2GB, 4GB and 6GB versions, have color screens and compete most directly with Apple's diminutive, flash-based Nano, while supporting Microsoft-based subscription services.

SanDisk showed off its 6GB Sansa e270 player on Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, setting its price at about $300. Apple's largest-capacity Nano is 4GB and costs $249.

"Ultimately, we would like to make this a two-horse race, and reach 35 to 40 percent market share," SanDisk General Manager Nelson Chan said at the event.

Creative Labs' new Zen Vision: M aims more directly at the video-enabled iPod, with a color screen and the ability to play several kinds of video formats.

iRiver's new U10 is a more dramatic departure from a design perspective, abandoning the iPod-like shape for a small matchbox-size device topped entirely by a small video screen. Lacking buttons altogether, the device instead relies on the screen, which rocks back and forth and up and down to let people scroll through music or video lists.

Many music-playing devices are pushing the technology even further.

Start-up MusicGremlin has created an MP3 player that taps directly into the company's online subscription service through a Wi-Fi connection, without ever needing to connect to a computer. The device can also browse and play songs from other Music Gremlin users' downloaded collections, if no Net connection is available.

Cell phone companies are diving wholeheartedly into the music business, with Sprint Wireless and Verizon Wireless beginning to offer iTunes-like music download services over their mobile networks. Verizon's V Cast music will be available on phones from LG and Samsung, but other companies, including Motorola and Sony Ericsson, are also touting their phones as on-the-go music devices.

"We've been pretty encouraged by the devices we've seen," said Napster Chief Technology Officer Bill Pence, whose digital music service currently has about 450,000 subscribers. "We think they're headed in the right direction."

Many of the smaller companies, and even some of the industry's largest, are turning to Microsoft to take on the Apple music powerhouse. It's hard for other companies to make substantial headway unless Microsoft counters Apple's massive ongoing marketing campaign, these companies say.

"Apple has buried the market with advertising for (iPod and iTunes), and since then it's been difficult for any other company to shake that bedrock," said Mark Farish, senior product marketing manager for Samsung Electronics America. "With 'Plays for Sure,' Microsoft has had a soft launch, not a thunderclap. That's what they need."

Reuters contributed to this report.

Previous page
Page 1 | 2

33 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Sansa?
Its twice as thick as the iPod Nano and doesnt include a Contact
Manager or video gamesand its the same price! Why would
anyone be that stupid?

(Of course, millions of people still use Microsoft Windows&.) ;-)
Posted by the Otter (247 comments )
Reply Link Flag
These Maybe?
Bigger screen, video playback, FM tuner and replaceable battery?
Posted by dysonl (151 comments )
Link Flag
URGE?
Urge? Urge? Who in the hell came up with such a stupid name?
I got urge! I have them every day!
I thought M$ hired lots of creative minds.
Posted by Goose (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds better than BEG
They'll be begging...err..urging people to use their service.
Posted by nmcphers (261 comments )
Link Flag
That's a cute name
The first thing coming to my mind - urge to go to the bathroom....

Whoever came up this name must drink a lot of water.
Posted by johnqh (236 comments )
Link Flag
Just one little problem
In reading this, it appears to me that the Win providers are thinking this is all business as usual, e.g. that it's Windows (Microsoft) vs. OSX (Apple). But iPods rely on iTunes, which runs on Windows, so this really isn't a battle at the OS level.

In this instance, I'm not sure I'd bet against Apple. I wouldn't be surprised if we see an iTunes plugin that converts WMA files to AAC for example (which might already exist?). If iTunes was limited to OSX, then I'd be more willing to believe that Apple has a problem.
Posted by R. U. Sirius (745 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Converts WMA
It does convert Non DRM WMA files automatically.
Posted by CitizenX (522 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft doesnt get it...
First of all... I could care less about MTV and Microsoft joining forces. MTV's current crowd, the teenager that loves rap and hip-hop music, does not appeal to me in the least. The brand itself has faded, and I think this much ballyhooed service will become a perennial flop just like all the other touted services by Microsoft. Secondly, Microsoft wants to create a seamless environment with the players and software services. I dont see how this will happen with the Rhapsodys, Yahoo Music Unlimited, Napsters, Music Nows and the like if they all have different interfaces, connection schemes, etc. I've read many forums and posts where the "seamless" integration isn't as seamless as they say it is. Some players have problems with certain services. Some players are DRM 10 compatible for purchased music, but not for subscription, and the list goes on and on. Not to mention the annoyance of the per track delay while the player validates the subscription status (about two or three seconds per song). Microsoft has a very long way to go to grab the mindshare of the consumer, their trust, and their wallets. Apple's ipod may not be the absolute best mp3 player out there. But they are a respectable company, actually innovative (a word Microsoft would know NOTHING about), and gives a great service for a very fair price.

If Microsoft wants to even make a dent in Apples market share, then hit them where it hurts- gain industry acceptance through goodwill, cooperation (without heavy handed tactics), innovation, and use that ever so large war chest to discount songs purchased through your affiliate services/MSN Music store. Once you get enough people to purchase enough songs/albums to have a worthwhile investment, they wont be able to go anywhere else because of the proprietary WMA format.

I have owned an iPod Mini, a Rio Carbon, and a Creative Zen Xtra. Both WMA with Janus support.
All the while, the iPod has worked the best, with the most intuitive interface and oh yes, much better integration with my pc with OUT having to upgrade my firmware or pc to get my device to work out of the box. WHAT a concept.
Posted by naterandrews (256 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS Geekboy can't dance
Apple has been deeply entrenched into the music business &
musicians lives for decades. Macs have been & continue to be
the computer of choice within the professional & independant
music business. WHY? Because they are so easy to use, do what
they need to do, get out of the way & let creative people BE
CREATIVE.

Macs were ahead of MS when it came to QuickTime &
multimedia/CD-ROM inclusions as STANDARD equipment way
before PC boxes with Windows in the past.

Apple has always seen the Personal Computer as an instrument
of creativity, learning & exploration...the art of science. ("Think
Different Campaign)
WinPCs have always been about the the bottom line corporate
business discount no frills beige box.

Which one do you think the music industry would trust &
embrace?

So, when Apple put out the iPod 2001 before iTunes Music Store
existed, they made sure that the iPod synced with iTunes
database Library on your computer only to stop people from
stealing music, the Music Industry was behind them on that
matter.

When Steve Jobs made the deal with 5 leading Music Companies
to create the iTunes Music Store for legal downloading of music
to Mac & WinPC computers, they listened.

So Apple has the entire delivery sytems of music covered from
musical artists, recording engineers, music distribution
companies, legal download online store, digital library database
software of iTunes for Windows & Mac, well designed & popular
iPods for Macs & Windows with DRM...

How has Microsoft in the past & today come close to the efforts
that Apple has been making for the last 20 years?

It's not just about the MP3 player people, it's about the WHOLE
SYSTEM.
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
nicely put
Very well worded observations. I'd add that there's always been an emotional connection in Mac marketing and the whole Apple mythology is tied up with one's emotional connection to Apple machines -- and since people tend to have an emotional connection to their media collections, it's a good fit.
Posted by tipper_gore (74 comments )
Link Flag
Re: iPod Competitor
I have to laugh because these companies just don't get it!
Go and look at the iRiver U10 presentation...
They use an Apple commercial clone...but the funniest thing is
their tag line: "Two steps forward"
First thing to your mind?
"One step Back!"
Their marketing department should be shot!
Posted by Stefan Oetter (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Message has been deleted.
Posted by drippydonut (3 comments )
Link Flag
suggestions
The battery issue is one that will ultimately affect all
rechargeables. Replacing an iPod battery is NOT expensive or
difficult unless you are not very good with your hands. Third
party replacement batteries come with the required tool to open
an iPod and you can replace it yourself. Or you can have a
technician do it for a small charge. Plus, the battery in an iPod
lasts a lot longer than a couple of years unless you listen to it
and recharge it literally 20 hours a day.

I guess my answer to your question is this: Buy something that
you will be happy with because the battery replacement is a fact
of life for all portables. You will be quite happy with an iPod
because of its ease of use as well as its beauty.
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This was for Steve Wilcox
This was in response to commenter Steve Wilcox above.
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
The problem is...
Who wants a subscribtion service? Not only do you have to pay
monthly, but you don't own your music. As soon as you stop
paying you lose all the music. Why would you want that? I mean
I can understand that you can never lose anything if your hard
drive fails, but if you don't own it what's the point. Plus napster
can't do math 10,000 songs from the iTMS does not cost
$10,000 it costs $9,900 (and who buys every song from from
iTunes anyway, why would you buy an iPod if you had zero
songs?).
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wrong perspective
I think you're looking at it wrong. Subscription services are more akin to cable or satellite radio than they are to traditional music purchasing. Plenty of people are buying into satellite radio and with subscription services you have the added benefit of getting to choose your own content (albeit from a selection that is limited to begin with). And sure, just like satellite radio or cable you lose the content if you cancel your subscription. But like those mediums, if you keep paying, you keep the content, plus you get the new stuff that comes along. And once again subscription gets the nod because if that new content just doesn't measure up, you still have full access to all the classic content whenever you want instead of waiting for some station manager to schedule it.
Consider also that music falls in and out of favor. As an individual's music collection grows larger, they are bound to listen less to certain music and perhaps not at all to some. The point is, it doesn't matter if I own it if I'm not listening to it.
Subscription services may not be for everyone, but I think there is a market for them.
Posted by someguy389 (102 comments )
Link Flag
iPod as Stereo Component
I want an iPod that fits in my stereo cabinet.

No buttons or display on it ... it can use a remote and my TV. And I want it to sync wirelessley (802.11) back to my computer to provide videos, pictures, and music through my stereo and TV.

And it should be cheap (say $200) because it doesn't need expensive tiny displays, expensive tiny batteries, or expensive tiny hard drives.

Anybody else want that?
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why iPod?
First of all, why are you referring to a DAP as an iP0d; iP0d is a brand, not a type of device. Secondly, if you want a component that will compliment a high-quality stereo, why are you talking about a mp3 player with overall, compared to more audiophile orientated players, poor sound quality?

What do you want, someone to custom build you a video-DAP for under $200 dollars? Your having a laugh! Ever heard of a Media Centre PC? (<--it was a rhetorical question) Go buy one...

And in future, remember you friend- his name is google.
Posted by drippydonut (3 comments )
Link Flag
I have an iPod AND a Muvo
I like the Creative Muvo. It's small, inexpensive, and perfect for when I take a walk. I'd never give up my iPod but I would take a Muvo over a Shuffle any day.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
well duh
anyone would take the muvo over a SHUFFLE. comon shuffle is far seperated from its siblings.

the new ipod and ipod nano, however, rules the muvo.
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
Link Flag
iPod Rules...
in a world of lazy and impatient technophobic average-joes who are overly conscious about image and "coolness".
Posted by dysonl (151 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Message has been deleted.
Posted by drippydonut (3 comments )
Link Flag
typo
*earlier

... for the anal people.
Posted by Stufiano (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Does Steve Balmer know how to spell iPOD?
I mean let's face it, you don't have to be genius to figure out a minute after listening to Steve talk that the missing link isn' too far back in his family tree.
Posted by lrd123 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Windows XP Media Center Edition
....has been out since 2002...

Apple Front Row...2005....
Posted by darrius3365 (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Macintosh TV
Was releaseed in 1993...
Win XP Media Center 9 years later...
Posted by Stufiano (88 comments )
Link Flag
The interface...not features
I think what the original thread poster was trying to say was that Microsoft copied the interface of FrontRow (i.e. movies, pictures, music...submenus in that, etc)....with the remote control, full-screen, tv-like interface.

It has already been indicated here that Windows XP Media Center Edition came out in 2002. Although Macs may have had TV capabilities since the 90s (and so did the PCs), that has nothing to do with the interfaces presented in FrontRow and WinX MCE.
Posted by darrius3365 (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Sansa
I guess you are talking about the Creative Zen Vision M.

It does have an FM Tuner, more colors, and the ability to play multiple video formats.

If the "Plays for Sure" manufacturers merely copy the features of the iPod, then it will not be an alternative. Some things have to be different.
Posted by darrius3365 (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
WMP on mac does not support DRM/stores
You cannot listen to music bought from WMA stores let alone buy
songs on a mac.

iTMS is available on windows as well as Mac OS X.

Which is worse? Platform & device lockin or just music player
lockin?
Posted by aristotle_dude (165 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No serious restrictions....
I have a friend who found a Rio on the street. It apparently had
fallen from a car, and may have even been run over once or twice,
but the litlle bugger still works. And it works very nicely on a Mac.
It can hold MP3 files, and WMA files (which are of no serious
interest). Since MP3 is quite adequate for small audio players, the
Rio is as good as the iPod as far as I can see. And the Mac with
Amadeus can convert virtually any audio file format into MP3.

End of problem. End of concern. And the price is very right!!!!!
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.