The holy grail for MP3 players is to build in color screens and wireless connectivity so that users can navigate directly to online digital music and video services. But that's easier said than done given cost, size and ease-of-use challenges.
"You have to know when to play the technology curve," said Joe Sipher, vice president of marketing for MP3 designer Virgin Electronics LLC. "You want bigger screens, but you don't want a bigger device. You want wireless, but it needs to handle streaming and not kill battery life."
High-end portable audio/video players will include 802.11 as an SD card option within a year, said Gil Miller, director of audio product marketing and business development for GoVideo Corp., which makes the Rave MP3 players. Jumping ahead of the rest of the market, one startup launched an MP3 player the Soniqcast Aireo with built-in Wi-Fi at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year (http://www.soniqcast.com/site/product.html).
Kevin Hawkins, marketing manager for portable audio and infotainment devices at Texas Instruments Inc., said TI has no immediate plans to integrate Bluetooth or Wi-Fi into its portable media player chips. Wireless in MP3 players "is still a bit up in the air, so we try to make our interfaces as glueless as possible," Hawkins said.
"People who have been afraid to handle the MP3 player's installation CD won't be linking these to home networks anytime soon," agreed In-Stat/MDR analyst Cindy McCurley. "There's no real strong evidence of MP3 connectivity beyond USB 2.0."
Creative Labs, iRiver and Samsung are already shipping portable video players, but observers said these products are really only niche curiosities today. The players cost nearly $500, there are few sources of digital video content and the quality of the viewing experience is poor, they noted.
"Where we are in video is about where we were in audio five years ago," said Miller of GoVideo.