The iPod costs three or four hundred dollars, and completely dominates a rapidly growing market – currently claiming an 82% market share. The market for portable music players using hard drives for storage, like the iPod, will grow five-fold this year. Even if Apple’s market share slips as competitors like Sony, Dell, and Creative take aim, there’s lots of growth to go around.

Normal, non-tech people are beginning to accumulate music on their computer hard drives. It’s not unusual to run into people who buy a CD from Amazon, rip it onto the computer, and put the CD in the closet. Portable players offer an appealing way to move that music around.

I resisted buying a portable player – although I have a large mp3 library, the price seemed too high. But I was tipped over the edge when I learned about a gadget that completed an irresistible package. Devices like the Belkin Tunecast II plug into the headphone jack of an iPod or other portable mp3 player and broadcast the music on an unused FM channel. The broadcast extends ten or fifteen feet – far enough to reach a car antenna and play the mp3s in the car with reasonably good sound quality. No more stacks of burned CDRs in the front seat!

I bought the new Creative Zen Touch, the best competitor yet to the 20Gb iPod. Stylish, great sound quality, well-designed controls and display (including a sleek vertical touchpad on the front for scrolling through lists), and 25-hour battery life – more than twice the iPod’s battery life – for about $250, about fifty dollars less than the comparable iPod. Very appealing!

Also worth a look: Dell just announced redesigned versions of its Digital Jukebox music players, a 20Gb player and a mini 5Gb player to compete with the iPod mini. Many people will never accumulate anywhere near 5Gb of music files; the smaller, cheaper “mini” players (Creative also offers the Zen Micro) make perfect sense.

Share This