Portable media players preview

What kind of iPod and portable media player announcements can you expect to see from CES 2010? Senior Editor Donald Bell makes some predictions.

I know this is a post about tech's big annual Consumer Electronics Showcase, but for a minute, let's talk about the annual Macworld Expo. Rather, let's talk about what Apple's backing out of the Macworld Expo means to CES and the category I cover (portable audio and video).

In years past , my January's involved a dizzying dash between San Francisco's Moscone Center and the Las Vegas Convention Center, as I strained to cover Apple's Macwold keynote and a week's worth of CES announcements in the same breath. But without Apple's presence, this year's Macworld (now in February) is far less significant, and I suspect that the iPod-centric vendors who were previously split by the two events will now come home to roost at CES. In short--iPod accessory announcements will likely play a larger role at CES this time around.

Photo of Griffin iTrip on iPod Touch.
Griffin's iTrip was the first with iPod/iPhone app integration, but it won't be the last. Griffin

The flip side of this observation is that iPod competitors will probably have a harder time being heard. That's of course assuming there are any substantial iPod competitors left, beyond Microsoft.

Last year, Sony made a big stir with their OLED touch screen X-Series Walkman. Today, that same Walkman is being passed over in the discount bin and Sony's latest Walkman models aren't even slated to come to the U.S. We were also excited to see an affordable iPod Touch alternative in the Samsung P3, but by the time the promised 32GB model finally became available, many had already begun pinning their hopes on the Zune HD (and appropriately so). Creative can't even seem to be bothered to ship us their latest player , possibly because they're too busy cooking up smartphones . SanDisk came out with their SlotRadio player, and the world promptly yawned.

The takeaway from all of this is that I suspect we're going to see fewer manufacturers launching iPod contenders at CES just to watch them fail, and more companies exploring the iPod/iPhone accessory space.

Specifically, from the e-mails I'm already getting, I'm going to be up to my neck in iPod accessories that integrate with a dedicated app. Griffin's latest iTrip FM transmitter was the first to market with their accessory/app combo, but plenty are following in their footsteps. Expect to see speaker docks with EQ apps, charging docks with clock/weather apps, or maybe even some kind of dock-connected headset with noise canceling app control.

Let's also not forget Apple's new mantra that the iPod Touch is a gaming device. In this vein, I wouldn't be surprised to see some Touch/iPhone gaming peripherals, as well.

And then there's Android. Now, the Android OS itself hasn't proven to be much of a powerful media player, but the third-party apps it supports haven't done too shabby. As the planned support for QVGA, WVGA, and HVGA display resolutions get rolled out for Android, the opportunities in the portable video player/tablet space become more realistic. I'm really hoping someone can show me an affordable Android media tablet that can elegantly juggle Hulu, Pandora, Facebook, and Twitter (even if it's just an Archos 5 with a radical firmware refresh).

So now you know my outlook on portable media players for CES 2010. To see how it all really unfolds, check back in on January 7-10 for CNET's complete CES coverage.

 

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