CES 2009 delivered a surprising amount of MP3 player-related product announcements compared with last year's show. No, I didn't see any "iPod killers" out there, but there are still plenty of manufacturers eager to fight for second place in the world of MP3 players.
The biggest trend I'm seeing right now is touch screens. For better or worse, every MP3 player manufacturer at CES was tripping over itself to show off its latest touch-screen models. Sony, Samsung, and Iriver had some beautiful, yet pricey, touch-screen devices to show off, but even budget-minded manufacturers, such as Coby, Memorex, and SanDisk, had touch-screen models on display. I'm also seeing a lot of manufacturers exploring the niche designs that compete with the iPod less directly, such as Haier's fitness-focused Ibiza Trainer and SanDisk's slotRadio player (see below).
The brightest example of the trend towards touch screens is CNET's Best of CES award winner for the MP3 player category, the Samsung P3. This elegant, well-executed upgrade to last year's Samsung P2 features an overhauled touch-screen interface, improved audio and video quality, a built-in speaker, and a metal enclosure that feels like a million bucks. We've got a gorgeous, hands-on photo gallery for the Samsung P3, as well as a First Look video.
Sony unveiled some stunning MP3 players, as well. The Walkman X-series, Sony's most hotly-anticipated new MP3 player, features a OLED touch-screen display, integrated noise-canceling headphones, and Wi-Fi features such as YouTube video streaming. Unfortunately, the X-series Walkman spent its time at CES under a thick layer of protective glass and Sony isn't setting a firm price or ship date quite yet. Luckily, Sony wasn't quite as coy about its new W-series Walkman, which is essentially a $69 pair of sporty headphones (not to mention attractive) with an integrated 2GB MP3 player. The W-series starts shipping at the end of March and I think they'll do quite well, considering their relatively low price, athletic emphasis, and the lack of any similar product from Apple.
Speaking of niche products, take a look at SanDisk's Sansa slotRadio player. This $39 buckle-sized MP3 player uses an extremely basic set of controls and plays music from preloaded microSD cards or a built-in FM radio. The appeal of the slotRadio player is probably lost on the tech-savvy, but I can think of more than a few people in my life whose aversion to complexities of computers and MP3 players has kept them in the dark ages of CDs, tapes, and radios. Like Sony, I think SanDisk is smart to chase after markets Apple hasn't yet seized.
On the portable video-player front, we saw the Iriver P7, the iLuv i1166, and a novel media player from Samsung (the MBP-200) that combines audio, video, and photo capabilities with an integrated pico DLP video projector.
I also got my hands on a line of little pico projectors made by WowWee. These little, standalone video projectors can cast the content of your iPod onto any nearby surface. I'm not convinced about how practical these things are, but I still want one.
To hear more about the gadget discoveries Jasmine and I made during the course of CES (and Macworld), listen to episode 129 of the MP3 Insider podcast, recorded live from the CNET stage at CES 2009.