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Reality Absorption Field: iPod's trail of tears, part 2

The last Reality Absorption Field discussed how most of the big names in the PC industry tried to take on the iPod and the fates of their eventual efforts. This week's column will look at PC peripherals companies and how the consumer electronics giants reacted, while next week's final installment will finish a look at the CE companies as well as discuss some of the pure plays that competed with the iPod.

PC Peripherals Companies

Diamond Multimedia and Creative. For many years, these two companies were two of Apple's most tenacious competitors. Diamond Multimedia, primarily known for its video cards, introduced the Rio PMP300 that opened many people's eyes to the promise of MP3. It also bore the brunt of the labels' wrath, which sued it into bankruptcy. However, the Rio name would resurface under the SonicBlue.brand (I was particularly fond of the microdrive-based iPod mini competitor Rio Carbon, which felt great in the hand.). Most of its portable devices were flash-based (including models it built for Nike and Motorola) but it created hard drive-based fixed devices for the home (Rio Central) and car (Rio Car). However, SonicBlue eventually went out of business as well, ending the line.

Like Diamond Multimedia, Creative was early in the MP3 player market with the hard drive-based, Discman-shaped Nomad Jukebox. It produced a slew of hard drive and flash-based players, including some large-screen video players under the Zen brand. Creative was also noteworthy for a patent dispute with Apple that resulted in Apple paying royalties. The company is still around, of course, but mostly focused on its roots as a PC periperhals and speaker company. You can still find a few MP3 players listed on its site, including the Zen Touch 2 that runs an old version of Android.

Iomega. A footnote in the history of MP3 players, the creator of once-adored Zip drives tried to crack the market smaller devices with a 40 MB disk cartridge called PocketZip and, later, Clik! Iomega convinced Ricoh to adopt the format in a camera and made its own MP3 player, the HipZip, which could not only play back MP3s on the disks but funciton as a general drive for reading them. The format couldn't compete with flash memory, and thus the HipZip had to RIP. The company was purchased by enterprise storage giant EMC in 2008.

Consumer Electronics Giants

Samsung and Sony. These two premium TV market rivals represented different kinds of competition to Apple. Sony, a pioneer in portable music, sought to maintain its Walkman heritage as it initially positioned Mini-Disc against the iPod. But the discs required transcoding the MP3 format to Sony's ATRAC codec with poorly received software called SonicStage. The company gradually came to adopt MP3 natively and drop ATRAC across mostly flash-based players and eventually even brought its Walkman brand to a series of feature phones it created in its Sony Ericsson venture.

Sony remains in the category today with a relatively robust lineup that includes music-playing Sports earbud models, the E and Wi-Fi Android-infused F series that roughly correspond to the 5th-generation and current-generation iPod nano, and the Android-based Z series that competes with the iPod touch.

Today, Samsung is Apple's strongest competitor in the smartphone space where it operates its own media store, but it was less successful competing against the iPod with a huge array of music players under the Yepp brand that spanned six full product lines of different form factors. Samsung now mostly competes with the iPod touch as a smartphone variant with a handful of products under the Galaxy Player brand.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.



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iPod Analysis

There was a time when Apple didn't dominate the portable music player market