IRiver CEO 'surprised' at Apple's iPod Shuffle

The chief executive of one of the world's leading manufacturers of digital music players says he is surprised at several of the features of Apple Computer's iPod Shuffle player, which was introduced by Apple earlier this week at MacWorld San Francisco.

"Two things surprised me," said Yang Duk-Jun, CEO of ReignCom, in a telephone interview Thursday. ReignCom produces portable music players under the iRiver brand name.

"The first is that iPod (Shuffle) is targeting the low-end area," he said. The low price is no surprise, as Chinese products are already available at that price: the surprise is that Apple is producing a low-end product, he said. "The second is that they introduced the 1G (byte) player that can contain about 200 songs. It will be very difficult for users to look for and find their favorite songs," he added.

The iPod Shuffle is Apple's cheapest iPod music player to date and its first based on flash memory rather than a hard-disk drive. About the size of a pack of chewing gum, the music player has no display and only basic controls. Music stored in the device is played either in the order in which it was transferred or randomly, hence the name.

Apple is offering two versions: a 512M-byte model that will retail for US$99 and a 1G-byte model that will cost $149. The higher-capacity device can hold up to 240 songs, according to Apple. It says the fact that it can play songs randomly is part of the fun.

The player is likely to hit Chinese manufacturers hardest because they dominate the low-end of the market, said Yang.

"In a sense it's not a competitor to an iRiver product because we have more features and focus on the premium area," he said. "Maybe there is a certain group of users who don't care about searching (for songs) and displays. Apple may replace the products low-end users are using but for (listeners who are) a little bit serious, this group won't like this type of product."

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