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Apple to introduce flash-based music player?

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 
Apple may be on the verge of introducing low-cost iPods that are based around flash memory rather than hard drives.

According to CBS Marketwatch, analyst firm Thomas Weisel has issued a research note, saying it thinks Apple Computer has plans to launch a flash memory-based MP3 player in time for Christmas and that its checks indicate that a company called SigmaTel will provide the controller chips for the player.

Unlike Apple's hugely popular iPod and iPod Mini players, the purported player would use solid-state flash memory, which will hold fewer tunes but make for a lighter, cheaper player.

The firm estimates a deal with Apple would generate between $2 million and $4 million for SigmaTel in its first full quarter. Earlier today, SigmaTel also announced a supplier pact with Rio, which produces a competitive player to the Apple iPod.

SigmaTel's D-Major portable audio system-on-a-chip (SoC) currently ranks atop the flash-based MP3 player market segment with over nine million units shipped last year. The chipmaker claims battery life in excess of 50 hours with high-speed USB 2.0 capability.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has stated that he believes the cost of Apple's iPod remains too high for the average consumer. During an exclusive interview at June's Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference, Jobs said Apple was working very hard at reducing the price of the iPod. When asked when to expected a price-drop, Jobs just smiled.
post #2 of 54
This is a redundant post. You should check the forum first.
post #3 of 54
Color me skeptical.
post #4 of 54
I'd say 2 GB is the minum to meet Apple's standard of "useful" vs. "throw in a drawer and forget" for most people. That would be 500 songs--not as good as "real" iPod, but a nice option with Apple ease-of-use.

But.. can Apple sell one cheap enough? Maybe $199 for 2GB? I suppose if Apple takes lower margins and sells enough to buy parts in massive bulk, then probably so.

I've always thought flash iPods were a matter of time, when cost and capacity made sense. Maybe even with 2x1 GB or 4x512.
post #5 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by nagromme
I'd say 2 GB is the minum to meet Apple's standard of "useful" vs. "throw in a drawer and forget" for most people.

Why does it matter if they make a "throw in a drawer and forget" iPod? A sale is a sale if I use it or keep it stashed in a drawer.

[hijack]This is the same problem Apple has with their computers. They won't enter the low-end market with small HDs, shared VRAM/System RAM, and straight CD ROM drives. Again, selling this type of computer would be a sale for Apple. Once a customer gets Mac-centric hardware and software, plus a taste of the hassle-free, no virus advantages of Mac OS X they would soon be an iMac purchaser or even a PowerMac purchaser.[/hijack]
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NOTICE: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information supplied herein, fahlman cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Unless otherwise indicated,...
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post #6 of 54
Well, I suppose I could this imagine this happening... if Apple's data showed sales of flash MP3 players continuing to climb, and Apple wanted to offer a kind of iPod-training-wheel music player for the very young, thrifty, and/or supercasual music listener.

It would be relatively cheap ($129), very sleek and compact (credit-card sized), with modest packaging, extras, and capcaity. Hey, you get what you pay for.

It'll be interesting to see just how "different" Apple will be willing to think, i.e. how different from their Mac strategies -- now that they're leading in a new market.
post #7 of 54
Who says that just because it's flash it has to have lower capacity.

Couldn't they replace the HD in the mini with 4G of flash and sell it for $200? Same battery life == cheaper battery, flash cheaper than HD, voila, low cost mini.
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post #8 of 54
Volume and margin are all important. If Apple feels it can make a 199 player and not detrimentally effect its margins while increasing their volumes, they'll do it. If you look at flash card prices you'll see that they have been dropping fast. So it is nearly time and with Apple's volume they should eb able to rock the marketplace in time for christmas. I wouldn't be surprised with a mid october announcement.

Interestingly, this will put pressure on Hitachi and Toshiba to reduce their drive prices to remain competitive with flash memory prices.
post #9 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by kiwi-in-dc
Who says that just because it's flash it has to have lower capacity.

Couldn't they replace the HD in the mini with 4G of flash and sell it for $200? Same battery life == cheaper battery, flash cheaper than HD, voila, low cost mini.

I believe a 4GB flash still is more expensive than a 4GB HD.
post #10 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by fahlman
Why does it matter if they make a "throw in a drawer and forget" iPod? A sale is a sale if I use it or keep it stashed in a drawer.

[hijack]This is the same problem Apple has with their computers. They won't enter the low-end market with small HDs, shared VRAM/System RAM, and straight CD ROM drives. Again, selling this type of computer would be a sale for Apple. Once a customer gets Mac-centric hardware and software, plus a taste of the hassle-free, no virus advantages of Mac OS X they would soon be an iMac purchaser or even a PowerMac purchaser.[/hijack]

With regards to shared VRAM, the new educational iMac has shared VRAM (the cheapy model w/no optical drive). And students/teachers/staff/etc (end users, not just institutions) can get iBooks configured with CD-ROMs for $949 (not eligble for cram-n-jam, of course).
post #11 of 54
It doesn't look like shared VRAM (NVIDIA GeForce4 MX w/32MB video memory). AFAIK, no recent Mac has used shared VRAM.
Stoo
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post #12 of 54
I think that adding to the existing line-up by introducing a flash-based player would be a smart move for Apple, but only if the margins are there.

The current flash-based MP3 player market is pretty fragmented, and many of the companies shipping units are pretty much unheard of (comparatively speaking). Apple currently possesses a pretty damn dominant/successful brand image with the iPods, and would likely destroy any competition in the flash-based market if they choose to pursue it.

My only concern with this is that it may cannibalize a portion of iPod sales. For example, I'm going to be in the market for an MP3 player shortly, currently considering the iPod mini, but if Apple launches, say, a 512MB flash-based player, I would be pretty likely to purchase that instead. It all comes down to margins...
post #13 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by fahlman
[B]Why does it matter if they make a "throw in a drawer and forget" iPod? A sale is a sale if I use it or keep it stashed in a drawer.

I use my iPod almost always for less than an hour at a time. I would love to have a 'gym iPod' or a 'I don't care that much if it's stolen iPod' in addition to my current bigger and more expensive iPod. A lot like keeping an old car around that you don't car who bangs up in the parking lot.
post #14 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by fahlman
Why does it matter if they make a "throw in a drawer and forget" iPod? A sale is a sale if I use it or keep it stashed in a drawer.

Because that's one sale. A sale of a "can't live without it" iPod generates more sales and better word-of-mouth, which means more sales.

If the "throw in a drawer" market was profitable, Palm would be rolling in dough right now. Instead, a little while ago they commissioned a study to find out how long their customers used their products (less than a year) and what they could do to get them to keep using them. Otherwise, if you've bought an iPod and thrown it in a drawer, you'll see newer, later iPods (or even Macs) and think "... nah."
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"...within intervention's distance of the embassy." - CvB

Original music:
The Mayflies - Black earth Americana. Now on iTMS!
Becca Sutlive - Iowa Fried Rock 'n Roll - now on iTMS!
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post #15 of 54
The best reason to do this would be to keep up with demand.
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post #16 of 54
Is anybody here old enough to remember the Walkman?

That's where iPod is now. Un-freaking-believable.

Brand value, cheap flash-based iPod, sells millions, end of story.
post #17 of 54
CF prices are dropping incredibly fast.

8GB, Eight Gigabytes! From Sandisk, will be available for under $1000 before Christmas. In a year's time CF is going to be even cheaper.

I'd ask for an iPod mini with no memory and an open CF slot. Then you can make any iPod you want! Such an iPod would be remarkably cheap to make. It doesn't need any internal storage, and only minimal internal memory -- no buffer, just enough for the OS and any firmware updates.

Make LOTS of COLORS and FINISHES, alu, plastic, a clear version, logos, designer versions, seasonal, limited editions... They ought to proliferate like swatches...

Price 99-199 depending on the edition/collectability.
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post #18 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Matsu
CF prices are dropping incredibly fast.

8GB, Eight Gigabytes! From Sandisk, will be available for under $1000 before Christmas. In a year's time CF is going to be even cheaper.

I'd ask for an iPod mini with no memory and an open CF slot. Then you can make any iPod you want! Such an iPod would be remarkably cheap to make. It doesn't need any internal storage, and only minimal internal memory -- no buffer, just enough for the OS and any firmware updates.

Make LOTS of COLORS and FINISHES, alu, plastic, a clear version, logos, designer versions, seasonal, limited editions... They ought to proliferate like swatches...

Price 99-199 depending on the edition/collectability.

I'm with you Matsu, and I'd use CF cards as well. They have higher volumes, and have been around a long time.

The idea isn't an original one though. Sony Ericsson has a Bluetooth Handsfree Music Player that connects to some of their phones. It uses Sony's Memory Stick technology, as does Sony Ericsson's S700i and S710a (soon to be released) phones, that have an MP3 player S/W. Sorry if I sound all enthused, but I've been "eye'n" the S710A for a bit and like the concepts involved in it (it's just a little big though).

I think Apple would have the best chance at success in the flash based music player arena using the removable media concept. Hopefully they'll use CF cards.
post #19 of 54
The key is price. The existing iPods are too expensive -- I'm not going to buy at that price point. If I can get an iPod CF for $100 (or less) and reuse my camera's CF cards then I'll snap it up in a second. I don't care if it only holds 100 songs... that's plenty for me and I can always download a new playlist at the end of the day.
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post #20 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Stoo
It doesn't look like shared VRAM (NVIDIA GeForce4 MX w/32MB video memory). AFAIK, no recent Mac has used shared VRAM.

According to MacCentral:
"But it also includes a significantly lower-powered video card (the Nvidia GeForce4 MX with 32MB of virtual RAM, as opposed to the Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra with 64MB)"

http://www.macworld.com/news/2004/09...macs/index.php
post #21 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Uberspleef
According to MacCentral:
"But it also includes a significantly lower-powered video card (the Nvidia GeForce4 MX with 32MB of virtual RAM, as opposed to the Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra with 64MB)"

http://www.macworld.com/news/2004/09...macs/index.php

And Ive got a bridge to sell you.

Just 'cos some moron expands VRAM to virtual RAM doesnt mean anything. Ill take Apples use of standard industry acronyms at face value ( vram => video ram ) any day.
post #22 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by mmmpie
And Ive got a bridge to sell you.

Just 'cos some moron expands VRAM to virtual RAM doesnt mean anything. Ill take Apples use of standard industry acronyms at face value ( vram => video ram ) any day.

Hey, I'm just reporting what I've read. The problem is that there are NO official specs for it on Apple's site, as far as I can tell. It's not one of the models listed on the iMac hardware page, and there are no specs at all for any iMac G5 under the Support->Specifications, as of midnight EST last night.
post #23 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Programmer
The key is price. The existing iPods are too expensive

I'm sorry, but you are wrong.
post #24 of 54
I just did a quick scan of CF 2GB prices...retail prices averaging around $150.

Assuming (correctly) that OEM/wholesale prices are cheaper, and that Apple could swing a big dicsount on quantity, etc. Apple MIGHT be able to do a $149 iPod Mini Mini (2GB...500 songs in your pocket). But we have to remember the other components too. If Apple shoots for a gross margin of like 15% on these guys, total cost has to be $126 (or less)...and that includes the drive/card, display, case, chips, packaging.

Now Apple does appear to have the clout to be able to get suppliers to do what they want right now on the iPod. So chances might be better than I think.

That said, I don't know why anyone (except techo-geeks and "spec whores") cares what the technology inside the thing is (I don't)...just that it works...and works well.
post #25 of 54
An exact, concise post, very well worded. Nobody cares what's in it as long as it works well. Bingo.
post #26 of 54
Well, I already knew I was a "Techno-Geek". Just proving it now,<venting>/ because if I didn't care what was inside the box ... I wouldn't care about the technology the device was capable of using. Take, for instance, Sony's misguided attempt at an iPod using their proprietary "ATRAC3" format (which doesn't have the quality or the open standard of the AAC format), and Sony Ericsson's Flash player I mentioned before (it uses Sony's proprietary memory stick technology that doesn't have the capacity of CF cards). <kinda sounds like MS ploys for world domination, huh>

So you might say that you don't care what's inside, but if you want the device to do certain things, or utilize certain existing equipment that you already own, then you actually do. Maybe it is better said that some people have to have certain brand names and the latest greatest in technology, just for bragging rights.

Price is important. If you're Apple, you won't sacrifice quality for the lowest possible $$ though. On the other hand, if you're Dell ... who cares, there are more customers out there who don't know about equipment, don't care about what's inside, and prefer to remain ignorant about the technology (heh, keeps me employed). As has been voiced time and again on these forums, Apple does charge more, and have higher margins. If Apple was as large as Dell, they wouldn't have to, but they're not and therefore have a more difficult time lowering prices. I don't agree with all they do, but I at least understand some of their reasons for it. /<venting>

BTW, the views above aren't targetted at anyone in these forums, your points just reminded me of the folks that I've had to support and deal with over the years.

The Flash Media Music Player Arena (I'd like to call Apple's, iPod Micro) has more competition in it, but like has been said ... for Apple to do well, the value is going to have to be there with the typical Apple Innovation.
post #27 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by MacJedai
Take, for instance, Sony's misguided attempt at an iPod using their proprietary "ATRAC3" format (which doesn't have the quality or the open standard of the AAC format), and Sony Ericsson's Flash player I mentioned before (it uses Sony's proprietary memory stick technology that doesn't have the capacity of CF cards)....if you want the device to do certain things, or utilize certain existing equipment that you already own, then you actually do.

Perhaps it is only a matter of semantics, but it seems to me that these concerns are less about what is inside than what it can do. For example, "If I buy the SONY device and have my music in the ATRAC3 format, I won't be able to play it on any other device, and I don't like that very much." (A trait shared by the protected AAC files of the iTMS BTW.)

Another example is "SONY's product uses a memory stick device that I cannot use with any of my other devices...and vice-versa. I don't like that very much."

These talk about capabilities.

The issue of whether the closed/sealed iPod has CF, a hard drive or a really tiny elephant (with great memory) shouldn't matter much to consumers. Similarly, issues of price and quality matter. If you wish to buy a cheaper device and it craps out after 6 months, instead of a "more expensive" device that lasts for 2 years. These are all factors that can be stated in simple, non-technical terms. I don't care if the iPod (or whatever) is made of the finest plastic, metal, etc. known to mankind. I care that it works and works well.

Now, one can say that knowing some things (i.e., the use of titanium vs. plastic) would likely lead to more durability, helps, but there are limits to this. I don't know that CF vs. hard drive matters much to me (or anyone for that matter). What matters to me is functionality, quality and price (which can all be summarized in the single word "value"). How the vendor (Apple or whoevere) achieves this is of very little consequence to me.

P.S. I am a techno-geek too.
post #28 of 54
Chris,

I'm in agreement w/you. And you're right about the "semantics", To me ... the capabilities are defined by what's inside (because I'm a technogeek and I want to learn, strangely enough I'm that way about physics and other things as well). To the average user, you're right, they only want to know what it's used for (not why ... they don't want to learn). Hence my comment about keeping me in a job (one of my jobs).

I also appreciated your picking up on my use of the word "value", it was intentional and I thought about explaining it when I wrote the post, but opted not to. It feels good to know that some else was on the same wavelength!

Thx,
Jedai
post #29 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Chris Cuilla
I'm sorry, but you are wrong.

No I'm not. I've considered buying one several times, but I always give up the notion when I look at the bottom line. I don't need even 1 GB of space (never mind 20 or 40 GB), and I won't pay even close to what they are selling the cheapest iPod for.

You're right, I don't care if the device has CF or an HD (aside from standard technology geek curiosity). What I do care about is price and quality. If by not including a hard disk Apple can slice off a big chunk of the cost then I'll buy one.
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post #30 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Programmer
No I'm not. I've considered buying one several times, but I always give up the notion when I look at the bottom line. I don't need even 1 GB of space (never mind 20 or 40 GB), and I won't pay even close to what they are selling the cheapest iPod for.

Okay. So the prices is too high for YOU. But the price is not too high in general (for the market).
post #31 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Programmer
I don't need even 1 GB of space (never mind 20 or 40 GB),

It's not an iPod you want then.
post #32 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by krispie
It's not an iPod you want then.

Well, this might be a little unfair. I think he's saying he'd like much of the niceties of the iPod without so much of the capacity or cost. I am certain that Apple is trying to figure out ways to address the entire entire spectrum of customers.
post #33 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Chris Cuilla
Okay. So the prices is too high for YOU. But the price is not too high in general (for the market).

Its not too high for the market that is buying the iPod, but that doesn't mean there aren't a whole lot of people like me out there.
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post #34 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Programmer
Its not too high for the market that is buying the iPod, but that doesn't mean there aren't a whole lot of people like me out there.

This is a dead certainty.

But you're unlikely to see lower prices until a) Apple can do so profitably, and b) they stop selling all of what they can make at the current prices.
post #35 of 54
I think you're both right. The iPod is too expensive. Hence me and Programmer not buying one when we'd really like to. Apple would sell tons more if they could lower the entry price...

However,
If Apple is selling them as fast as they can make them anyway, there's no reason to lower prices until demand falls off or they can manufacture more.

If I remember right, the rumor was that the iPod mini would settle down to around $200 after production ramped up, but since they still can't keep the iPod mini in stock, why bother?

In short, for the sake of me and Programmer, please quit buying iPods.


edit: And I just realized that that's what Chris just said... lol
post #36 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Tuttle
I use my iPod almost always for less than an hour at a time. I would love to have a 'gym iPod' or a 'I don't care that much if it's stolen iPod' in addition to my current bigger and more expensive iPod. A lot like keeping an old car around that you don't car who bangs up in the parking lot.

I agree there is space for an iPod with a different target audience.

A lot of commuters use an iPod for a couple of hours a day, at most. Flash would also use less power.

Imagine using your iPod for an hour or 2 (on the train to work, at the gym, going for a walk... whatever...), then when you get home your iPod automatically "reshuffles" the songs on your iPod. So you've got an iPod playlist that's got more songs than the iPod fits, but during sync it removes the songs you've listened to (or skipped) since the last sync and puts some new ones on.

Add to this wireless/Airport sync? - as soon as you're home it updates your songs. Or iPod radio? I think there are possibilities.
post #37 of 54
While the "hanging" of an iPod during physical activity has lessened, you can't beat solid state non-moving flash based players.

I can't imagine how light this thing would be without a hard drive! Finally an iPod that you can TRULY go running/hiking around with.
post #38 of 54
A couple of points:

1) Flash-based iPod means simpler electronics (no need for buffer memory), and more reliability (no hard drive crashes anymore).

2) iTunes is the big picture here. Whether you like it or not, there is an aboundance of different cheap mp3 players that will play the wma files of the other online music stores. You need to make sure that people won't get used to buying from them, but will rather use iTunes. Since iTunes will only work with iPods (at least, until Apple licenses Fairplay), you need a cheap iPod to sell to those people that will never pay the high prices that an iPod commands right now.
post #39 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Chris Cuilla
But you're unlikely to see lower prices until a) Apple can do so profitably, and b) they stop selling all of what they can make at the current prices.

While (a) is true, (b) isn't necessarily. Apple didn't make PowerMacs until they stopped selling and then switched to iMacs.
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post #40 of 54
Quote:
Originally posted by Programmer
While (a) is true, (b) isn't necessarily. Apple didn't make PowerMacs until they stopped selling and then switched to iMacs.

Yes, but you must consider three things: a) two totally different products (iPod and Mac), b) iMac and PM serve different customers where iPod is pretty homogenous comparatively speaking and c) the demand curve for PM might have been lowering, and Apple saw this and made their move at the right time, even though it didn't look like they waited until demand had dried up.

Still, Apple seems to be playing its cards w.r.t iPod very deftly. I expect lower priced models, but almost certainly not until after the new year. Especially if they expect to sell everyone they can make (regular and Mini) at their current prices for the Christmas shopping season.
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