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Great portable media players @ 5K plus
Priyanka Joshi | September 23, 2006
If you thought iPods have warmed the hearts of only the young, you're way wrong. Even the Queen of England, we're informed, is the owner of a silver-coloured iPod mini.
Portable hard disk players that can store immense amounts of audio data are fast gaining popularity among music lovers. If electronic entertainment is the mantra, portable media players are possibly the best thing after computers; a trend that's just heating up.
The message is clear -- move over MP3 players, portable media players (PMP) are here. Not restricted to music only, these gadgets can store hours of favourite television shows, movies and pictures too. But the best part is that they fit in your pocket.
Being able to store music while on the move has been a driving factor for most manufacturers. With memory sizes for these handheld devices varying from 1 GB to 100 GB, it has become a crucial factor while zeroing in on a particular brand.
As a rough guide, a 30 GB PMP has enough capacity for about 6,500 songs, 120 hours of video or 300,000 photographs. In a nutshell, several hours of entertainment can sit snugly in your pocket.
But before you race out and acquire one, there are a few things to consider. While PMPs become the latest buzz in consumer electronics, consumers must realise that the market in India is just beginning to take off.
In India, penetration has been largely restricted by high prices, lack of features that readily access content, and confusion on music formats.
iPod, a brand of portable media players designed and marketed by Apple Computer (a cult icon in the IT world), is definitely the topper in the list of PMPs available. With the addition of its new iPod Shuffle (it measures a cubic inch in size and weighs a half ounce), it is the most compact iPod in the market today.
"We have priced it at Rs 5,600; with 1 GB of flash memory it can store up to 240 songs," says E Y Yeo, product marketing manager (portables), Asia Pacific, Apple.
He says, the most popular iPod versions in India have been the Shuffle and Nano. Apple, which has had the early mover advantage here, has carved the iPod's reputation as an easy-to-use, stylish device and dominance among the PMP market (to the extent that some people erroneously refer to all devices as 'iPods'). This has created a large market dedicated specifically to iPod accessories.
Till now Apple has had a free ride, because competitors knew what to do but did not do it. While making a great music player is no secret, most of Apple's competitors are seen lagging behind in terms of form factor, an intuitive user interface, and the "x-factor".
Today, a half dozen competitors have come out with hard drive-based portable jukeboxes. Most of them are at the same price point as the iPod. Do any of them have the right combination of usability, style, and compact size to lure you away from the iPod? Maybe.
Philips, SanDisk, Creative Labs, e.Digital, Sony have launched their innovations (a few are yet to be launched in India) and now Microsoft too has ventured into music devices with Zune.
Sony's hard drive-based digital music players are considered the closest thing to a threat that iPod has encountered. Sony's NW-HD1 Network Walkman weighs less than 4 ounces, measures 1.8-inches, and is bundled along with a 20GB hard drive.
It has also announced a portable multi-media device (as competition to iPod video) that features a 40GB hard drive and a 2.2-inch colour LCD to display full-colour photos and album covers while one listens to music.
Both devices have one major drawback -- they only play music in Sony's proprietary ATRAC format. Apple's iPod, on the other hand, is compatible with MP3, AAC, Audible, AIFF, and WAV.
Sony's players do, however, come with software that converts music files to its ATRAC format. In addition, the devices will only work with the Sony Connect online music store. Priced at approximately Rs 18,000-20,000, the company should announce some basic PMPs too.
Samsung, yet another iPod competitor, has launched Samsung YP-Z5 that retails at around Rs 15,000-17,000. Luckily for iPod lovers, the 38-hour battery life of the Samsung YP-Z5 will probably push Apple into developing an even more impressive battery in response to Samsung's efforts. Microsoft's recent announcement to launch an iPod killer called Zune might be an interesting product to watch out for.
According to an analyst, "Non-iPod devices must compete by lowering prices to gain adoption. However, Apple has such massive relative shipment volume that other music player manufacturers cannot reproduce the company's low-cost strategy." In light of this, Apple might continue to lead the competition even in 2006-07. Music to the ears?