Android won't save media players

How much impact does Android have in the music and media player space? Does it even matter when Apple pretty much owns the market?

Does having Android 4.0 under the hood matter to general consumers? Sony

Sony pulled off a surprise yesterday when it added the Android 4.0-powered F800 and E470 to its popular and long-running Walkman series of personal media players.

It isn't Sony's first Walkman to run Android (in January the company unveiled the Z series ) nor is Sony the first company to use Android for media players. Samsung and Archos, for example, have used the OS, with the Galaxy Player 4.2 being Sammy's most recent example.

Yet, for all the success that Android smartphones have reaped, there are no top-selling media players running Google's OS at its core. This makes me ask: does Android matter in personal media players? From the look of things, I suspect that it does not.

Here are a few reasons why Android-based media players have not taken the world by storm. These are not to say that any one company is doing things wrong, nor is to suggest that things are not subject to change. Rather, I'll give a broad look at some of the factors that have helped determine why the iPod won't have big competition anytime soon.

Why even bother?
Considering that some of today's Android tablets have the same price tag as a media player, it's hard to argue for the smaller form factor. Take, for example, the Nexus 7 and its quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 16GB storage, and front-facing camera. At $249, the 7-inch tablet comes with the latest version of Android (4.1 Jelly Bean) and boasts some rather powerful hardware. That's quite a lot for such an affordable price.

The Sony F800, on the other hand, comes with a higher price tag but half the screen size, no camera, an "old" version of Android, and "only" a dual-core processor. And while the F800 is considerably more portable than the Nexus 7, the tablet is still lighter than my old CD Walkman and offers access to more than 600,000 applications.

Apps are a key factor here, as well, given that many consumers expect their portable devices to handle multiple tasks. Even the Nintendo DS has evolved over time to function as a portable player for games, music, and other media. What's more, users have simply become conditioned to expect touch-screen devices to do more. If you could read magazines, news, or RSS feeds with the same device that plays your R.E.M. collection, then why wouldn't you? Products like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 make it tough to argue in favor of a 3.5-inch PMP that doesn't have access to the same wealth of content.

Given that smartphones typically come with more powerful hardware and lower price points, it's even harder to justify a $250-$300 Android-based media player. Sure, there's the counterpoint that these handsets require data plans or contracts, but the fact remains that people are buying smartphones at a faster rate than ever before. At some point or another, many consumers will choose from a wide selection of products that run Android, feature sleeker and thinner designs, and include cameras and other goodies such as NFC or GPS.

What's the point, then, in spending a couple hundred dollars on another device that only offers some of what your handset does? You'd be dropping cash on a second product that delivers a fraction of the experience. Wouldn't you be better served putting that money into something entirely different?

Of course, I concede that there are times when I don't want or need my phone on me, but I'd still enjoy a few podcasts or playlists. In these scenarios, I'd appreciate having a media player, but I'm content with having my mobile. Alternatively, my wife doesn't want to take her phone with her when she goes on long runs, no matter how thin or light. She'd rather have a tiny MP3 player on her arm that doesn't have the weight and size of a smartphone.

As much as I love Android and all that it offers, I have come to accept that the MP3 player market is Apple's to lose. I've enjoyed my time with devices like the Galaxy Player 4.2 and the Archos 28, but I've come to rely on the power and flexibility of my smartphone. When it comes to a good old fashioned PMP, the iPod is still the king of the hill. Just as nearly all facial tissues are called Kleenex and all cotton swabs are known as Q-Tips, pretty much all MP3 players are called iPods. Unfortunately, no amount of Android integration is going to change that in the foreseeable future.

A magic bullet?
Still, I don't imagine that Android-based media players will be going anywhere anytime soon. Those using the platform for PMPs and MP3 players will continue to do so and I suspect we could see another player or two enter the fray. Yet, there are a few things that need to happen in order for one company or product to have runaway success. The secret recipe includes a combination of low price points, decent display sizes, access to Google Play, and advertising.

The closest thing I've seen yet is the the Samsung Galaxy Player line, but I've not encountered much marketing around the lineup. Even then, we've still got $50 or more to contend with before it's easy for general consumers to consider. Generally speaking, we're getting closer, and Samsung is leading the charge much in the way it has with smartphones this past year.

Have you thought about an Android-based personal media player or MP3 player for yourself? Which brand or device has caught your attention, and for what reasons? Do you already own a smartphone? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject of Android-powered PMPs.

 

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