Everyone from PC makers Dell Computer and IBM to chip giants Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are professing the belief that handheld devices and Internet appliances are the wave of the future. Computers and traditional enterprise hardware have been hard to find at the expo.
The Rio 600 is part of S3's strategy of blanketing the traditional home and portable audio category with digital alternatives, according to Mike Reed, director of product marketing for S3's Rio group.
"We're in category-creation mode," he said, explaining that recent partnerships with Dell and Nike will help extend Rio's reach among non-techies. "We're delivering a family of products."
That family will include the Rio 600, shipped today with 32MB of memory and priced at $169, as well as the upcoming higher-end Rio 800 and the Rio Receiver, which plays music stored on a PC through a home stereo. Car audio products are also in the pipeline.
Attempting to appeal to college students and younger buyers, the Rio 600 will feature color faceplates, like the popular low-cost Nokia cell phones, and will be easily upgradeable with more memory.
The upgrades will come in the form of "jackets," which easily slide on and off the player. These jackets will come with various memory upgrades, along with a high-capacity storage technology called DataPlay, which will be out by the end of the year.
The new players include support for MP3 and Windows Media audio formats, he said, along with the new secure AAC and InterTrust Technologies formats. This means that when record labels eventually make secure music available for download, the Rio 600 will be able to play the new files.
"The record labels are very enthusiastic" about offering secure downloads, Reed said, although few major record labels are currently offering many songs. "It's never too late. The opportunity will always be there."
Iomega is the latest example of a company embracing consumer gadgetry in an attempt to turn around its waning success in the business market. The company made its name with high-capacity Jaz and Zip drives and storage media, which have been eclipsed in capacity and price by CD-RW drives and ever-larger hard drives built into computers.
The storage company introduced the Clik drive a few years ago as a way to gain entry into the digital camera market and handheld world, but the reception has been lukewarm at best. The Clik media will be used in the new Iomega digital music player, which remains nameless at this point.
Clik media, priced at $10 for each 40MB Clik disk, is much less expensive than the Compact Flash cards used in traditional MP3 players. Compact Flash cards are generally priced around $80 to $100 for a 32MB card. In addition, the flash memory pre-installed in many of the players is in short supply.
"Consumers will now be able to affordably collect and organize music playlists on round, 2-inch Clik disks, making it fast and easy to take your favorite tunes with you on the go," Iomega CEO Bruce Albertson said in a statement today.