Interface design gaining importance for MP3 players

IRiver is promoting a new user interface for its MP3 players to differentiate its products from others.

With more and more MP3 player makers improving their devices' external designs, the user interface is becoming an important differentiating factor, the chief executive of one of the world's biggest MP3 player makers said Wednesday.

Joon Yang, chief executive officer of South Korea's Reigncom, which produces players under the IRiver brand name, said the exterior design of his company's devices is what used to make them stand out from the competition. But competitors have caught up on exterior design, pushing IRiver to focus on something else.

"It's hard to differentiate by design," he said in an interview at the SEK exhibition in Seoul on Wednesday. "We thought: why do we need control buttons? Controls are ugly so if it's possible to eliminate them and use the display [we should do that]."

The first results of this thinking can be found in the U10, which was announced on Monday and publicly debuted on Wednesday.

The U10 does away with the majority of control buttons usually found on MP3 players in favor of a pressure-sensitive front panel. The panel can be pushed in four areas, each at the middle of the panel's four sides, to control the device. The function performed by depressing each part of the panel changes depending on the menu and the current functions are clearly shown on the display itself.

"This U10 contains the concept of future IRiver products," he said. Clear user interfaces allowing quick access to content will be key in the future, said Yang.

Looking at the MP3 player market, Yang predicted that the fierce price competition between companies will ease later this year. He said he believes a compromise between the bigger players in the market will naturally occur as manufacturers work to maintain their profit margin.

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