Intel gets funky with introduction of MP3 player

The Intel Pocket Concert Audio Player will hit US stores February 1 at a price of $US299, says John Middleton, marketing manager of Intel's connected products division. It's just the latest consumer product from the company, which in recent months has also shipped a series of PC-connected toys, digital cameras, and wireless input devices.

The tiny device is clad in a protective metal skin and requires two AA batteries, which should power about ten hours of play, Middleton says. Intel uses its own StrataFlash memory in the device, which lets the company offer double the flash memory of most small form factor MP3 devices currently on the market, he says.

The larger amount of storage should help people get more use out of the MP3 player without having to return to their PC as often to refresh the music, Middleton says. Intel says the device will hold up to four hours of music.

Add-ons, accessories offered

You can transfer music from a PC to the device using a USB cable and Intel's Audio Manager software. The company also includes a version of the MusicMatch Jukebox software with a Concert Player plug-in, Middleton says.

A scrolling wheel on the unit let you move through song lists, FM stations, and bass and treble equalisation controls displayed on a small LCD, he says. In addition to MP3s, the unit also plays files in the Windows Media Audio format, and later you'll be able to upgrade it to new formats as they become available.

The unit comes with headphones, but Intel will also sell an accessory kit, Middleton says. The package includes an audio car adapter, neoprene case, rechargeable batteries, speaker cables, and a stereo dock. The dock lets you connect the player to your stereo receiver and also recharges the batteries. A player and kit combo will cost $US349; or you can buy the kit separately for $US59.

More gadgets to come

The player is the first of numerous new hardware products Intel is rolling out early in 2001, Middleton says. At the Consumer Electronics Show later this week, the company will also demonstrate its upcoming Chat Pad and Web Tablet, he says.

The Chat Pad uses the same technology as Intel's wireless keyboard and will let you send e-mails and instant messages through a connected PC, Middleton says. It has a small, gray-scale text-only LCD and is a very basic device.

The Web Tablet uses Intel's AnyPoint Wireless HomeRF networking to share an Internet connection with an existing PC, Middleton says. Essentially an untethered browser, the unit has a colour touch display, plus a stylus and scrolling wheel to navigate. Intel has yet to set release dates or pricing for either product, Middleton says.

Why is Intel, the undisputed leader in the highly profitable processor business, trying to establish itself in the consumer hardware market? Because the company wants to "extend the value of the PC," Middleton says. Make the PC more useful and fun, and people will want the latest and greatest processor inside those PCs, he says.

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