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Inventor turns Pez dispenser into MP3 player

MP3 gadget maker signs a deal with the candy icon to make music players that look like the famous treat dispensers.

Rap impresario 50 Cent may be riding atop the Billboard charts on the strength of his hit single "Candy Shop," but music lovers of all kinds will soon be able to mix their passions for beats and sweets if one gadget maker's plans come to fruition.

That's right, the candy market's best-known handheld device, the iconic Pez dispenser, is about to go digital. Under a recently granted licensing agreement with Pez Candy, gadget design company Lincoln West Studios is producing a prototype of an MP3 player modeled after the big-headed plastic treat sleeves. If the design gains the final approval of Pez Candy, Lincoln West hopes to soon begin selling the device.

Based on Lincoln West's plans, which were first detailed Thursday in a blog posted to the company's Web site, the Pez MP3 will arrive sometime this summer. The gadget will be built around a Samsung chip and will have 512MB capacity, as well as an LCD screen. The device will look exactly like a traditional Pez dispenser from at least two sides and will come in a variety of colors, said Patrick Misterovich, president of the Springfield, Mo., design company.

And while the Pez MP3 will not hold any hidden capacity for carrying the time-honored candy onboard, the device will mate with any of the plastic heads produced to snap onto actual Pez Candy dispensers. This feature alone could play out in a gadget geek's dream, as Pez recently added new characters from the Star Wars trilogy to its legions of swappable hinged craniums.

The first production run of the devices, built for Lincoln West by a third-party manufacturer, will deliver roughly 1,000 of the MP3 players to the United States. The music players, which will come with ear bud-style headphones and a USB cable to connect with PCs, will sell for $129 apiece and be sold directly through Lincoln West's site. The lightweight devices will have six control buttons and an LCD readout that mimics the design of other smaller players, Misterovich said.

The designer said he was inspired to create the Pez MP3 after following a competition launched by breath mint maker Altoids, which challenged participants to create something original out of one of the company's pocket-size tin containers. The winner of the competition was an individual who stuffed a speaker for use with Apple Computer's iPod digital music player into one of the tins.

"I saw that and I thought, that's pretty neat, taking something that you wouldn't think of as electronics and turning it into a device," Misterovich said. "When I started thinking about how I could do that, the Pez idea came to me, and I figured it was something that was pretty cool that could appeal to a lot of people."

The gadget stylist has previously marketed MP3 players aimed at younger audiences, including so-called "tweeners," or boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 13, who aren't in the traditional marketing segments for children and teenagers. While those players, dubbed Secondhand Monkeys, produced only mixed results and relatively small sales, Misterovich said, the designer is convinced that the cult-like following already dedicated to the ubiquitous Pez candy dispensers will help spur greater interest in his newest creation.

"The (Secondhand Monkey) was just an experiment; it was probably a bit too early to market at that demographic, but it will be there someday," Misterovich observed. "Pez dispensers are something people have already shown that they're very willing to grab onto."