Iomega ships digital music player

The HipZip represents Iomega's first foray into the world of consumer electronic devices. The company hopes to take advantage of consumer's growing appetite for affordable, portable computer data storage.

It also hopes to create a new market for its PocketZip data storage disks. In October, Iomega plans to roll out its second consumer electronics device; FotoShow will store digital images and display them on televisions.

"The popularity of digital music and images couldn't have come at a better time," says Noel Sobelman, worldwide product line manager for Iomega.

The HipZip costs $US299. Iomega's 40MB PocketZip disk, used to store MP3 or Windows Media music files for playback, costs $US10 per disk. That's about 25 US cents per megabyte, significantly less than traditional media like Compact Flash, which run $US3 to $US4 per MB.

While the Iomega drive technology may reduce cost, the player is heftier than most players are and feels a bit clunky. But Iomega representatives point out that Flash memory cards are too expensive to own more than one. With PocketZip disks, you can afford to have many disks at your disposable, allowing you to take hours of music with you.

The device uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which is good for 12 hours of playing time before recharging. You can view music track information and device settings on a two-by-three-inch display.

Store Anything

The HipZip supports Windows Media and MP3 digital file formats and can also play back Audible's spoken-word content. HipZip also works double duty as a portable data storage device, allowing you to store any file type on a PocketZip.

HipZip connects to your PC or Mac through a universal serial bus port. To manage your music, it bundles its own Iomega software and supports both Microsoft's Windows Media Player 7.0 and MusicMatch Plus Jukebox for converting CD music tracks into MP3 files.

The HipZip can be upgraded to support different file formats. Iomega also cooperates with the music industry, supporting a number of different digital rights-management schemes designed to thwart music piracy. One of those measures allows PocketZip disks to be shared among different players but prevents you from copying music tracks from someone else's PocketZip storage disk onto your computer's hard drive.

Iomega discussed its plans to launch a number of consumer devices earlier this year in a preview at the PC Expo trade show in New York. Those plans include allowing a number of companies to build devices that use the PocketZip disks for storage. So far Sensory Science is the only firm selling a portable music device that uses the PocketZip for storage.

An estimated 700,000 portable, digital music players were sold worldwide in 1999, hitting $US128 million in sales, according to a market study by Cahners In-Stat Group and commissioned by Iomega. This year, 4.8 million units will sell, representing $US629 million in sales, Cahners researchers say. They expect sales will continue to climb in 2002, when 6.9 million consumers are expected to buy portable digital music players.

Currently 70 different digital music players are available to consumers worldwide. S3's Rio Player is the No. 1-selling portable digital music player, in front of manufacturers Sony and RCA, according to Cahners.

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