A sign of the times?: With cloud storage services and music streaming now more popular than ever, electronics manufacturers have stopped producing good high capacity media players. Here, our author Alec James shares his thoughts on the industry, and his need for a bucket load of physical storage.
A few years back, the yearly upgrades to MP3 players would result in loud claims of more and more space, offering you the chance to carry more and more music with you on the go. This appealed to nearly everybody, in much the same way higher megapixel counts have continued to appeal to the average camera buyer, it just seems like something which would be advantageous. Naturally, the vast majority of media players never got anywhere near their capacities once they landed in the hands of the consumer, but for many people (myself included), there just never was enough space for all their music. The years rolled by and more and more hard drive space was added until, curiously, companies just stopped adding memory. We have been forever stuck with 160GB.
The long time dominator of this market has, of course, been Apple, whose iPod range was both the height of cool, and of ease of use. Sure, you had to use the miserable lump of code known as iTunes, and putting up with all that non standard capitalisation was a tough pill to swallow, but they constantly offered decent audio quality, good battery life and access to the huge ecosystem of accessories that were being made for them. So, when was the last time Apple updated their high capacity media player? 2007, when it got an upgrade to 160GB, but stuck with its 2.5″ 320×280 display and rapidly ageing frame
Apple aren’t the only ones in the game (though that may well come as a surprise to some), and chief amongst their rivals are South Korean audio masters Cowon, famous for strange hardware choices (resistive screens one week, capacitive the next) and world beating audio quality. In 2010 they released the X7, available in both 120GB and 160GB, it had a chunky 1.4 x 7.8 x 12.7cm frame alongside a gigantic 4.3″ resistive (ouch) screen, 103 hour battery life and support for all the audio formats you both need, and deserve (I’ve yet to find something it wouldn’t play). It’s far from a perfect device, but it is the only media player on the market which will play FLAC and hold plenty of files, and thus the one I’ve owned for a couple of years now.
These two are the only high capacity media players on the market, racking up a startling 9 years of age between them, making them practically geriatric in the technology world. The iPod is stuck with a low res screen, old design, high price and poor codec support, whilst the X7 has an iffy resistive touch screen, brick like build quality and a bizarre hardware fault regarding running out of charge and never turning on again (seriously). Has the world fallen out of love with carrying around their record collections, or has the market died because of a lack of quality products occupying the space?
True, hard-drive based media players are seen as a tad old fashioned in the fast paced world of solid state memory, but for a manufacturer looking to make a high capacity device, hard drives have rarely been cheaper – 500GB HDD’s can be had to the consumer for less than £40, and super thin drives like Toshiba’s MQ01ABUW series, which are just 7mm thick. So why did we stop at 160GB, as if this mythical number was truly the upper limit of pocketable memory? A manufacturer could walk into this market and take it with a high resolution screen, large hard-drive and half decent software. Even more than that, the Classic and X7 still retail for around £199 a piece – a fairly outrageous sum given the old technology that they pack.
Naysayers will, very fairly, claim that having access to hundreds of gigabytes of cloud space negates the need to carry around your own personal hard drive with you wherever you go, and that trusting your collection with the likes of Google is a much more convenient way of going about taking your music on your go. It’s a good argument, one which I bought into briefly as I uploaded my music and downloaded the Google Music application for my One X. On the plus side, having your entire collection wherever you have an internet connection is something of a miracle, over WI-FI Google Music makes more sense than any other service I’ve used (though the 20,000 song limit may be a sticking point for some). Sadly though, the UK is not yet bathed in high speed 3G and 4G mobile connections, just as we aren’t yet gifted with low cost unlimited bandwidth packages, making mobile access little more than an experiment thus far, albeit one with outrageous promise.
So, the high capacity media player appears to be dead in the water, increasingly seen as unnecessary in the wide world of high speed flash storage and streaming music services, but is it really so much to ask to carry my extensive collection of East-17 and Chumbawamba b-sides and alternate mixes? It seems to me that the promise of having your whole music collection in your pocket has given way to low storage, high price fashion statements, ignoring a whole segment of the market interested in codec support, high storage and even relatively modern technology. World, you have heard my desperate, needy call, all you need now is access to a supply chain, a factory and enough market sway to stay solvent in a market which may only include myself and three others. Seems easy enough, right?
About Alec: I'm addicted to gadgets, it's as simple as that! You'll find me on my Xperia Z Compact during the day, listening to music on my Bowers & Wilkins at night and editing my very own music blog on my laptop anytime. View author profile.