OK - it might not be strictly digital design - but storage-maker Iomega is hoping its next big hit will be on your hip. The storage maven is entering the crowded field of portable digital-music players with the release of its HipZip player.
The device uses Iomega's own 40MB new-sounding PocketZip storage disks, which may look very familiar. This is because they are simply Clik disks rebranded after failing to take off in the consumer sphere as Iomega as planned.
Their lack of success has been blamed on the vast majority of manufacturer of digital cameras and other such devices using solid state media such as CompactFlash and the unwillingness of users to purchase more than a few pieces of media for each device they own.
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 around £200. Iomega's 40MB PocketZip disk, used to store MP3 or Windows Media music files for playback, costs £6 per disk. That's about 15 pence per MB, significantly less than traditional media like Compact Flash.
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 2-x-3-inch display.
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 £80 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 £400 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.