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"Nice Video, Shame About the Song"

Then there was iRiver’s H10. While the PC software wasn’t great the real clanger was actually the firmware. Amazingly, at launch the H10 couldn’t actually list albums in track order, only alphabetical order! When I raised this with my contact at iRiver, he could only share my despair and pointed out that the European arm of iRiver was at the mercy of its Korean firmware engineers. “Have they never used a MP3 player before?” he exclaimed. That was pretty much what I was going to ask him, so he kind of stole my thunder on that one.

Luckily, at another briefing a couple of weeks ago he said that it had finally been fixed. He also said iRiver wouldn’t make that mistake again with its new product; the rather snazzy looking U10. This is a small bubble like media player, capable of playing music, flash games and MPEG4 video.

As you can see it’s a remarkable looking device. It’s a radical departure for iRiver and really quite innovative. I’ve already played with early pre-production units and I’m really looking forward to playing with it when review samples appear in a month or two - but I’m already steeling myself for the awful software.

When it comes down to it, the iPod has hung onto its position longer than perhaps it deserves to - because it just works. A bit like the Mac itself really. Mac hardware has lagged behind that of PCs for some time now and it has got to the stage where the Steve Jobs finally announced that Apple would be basing future products on the Intel architecture. But despite the performance differences people have been buying iBook and Powerbooks because of Mac OSX, particularly with the good press enjoyed by the Panther and more recently Tiger updates.

But why does it have to be this way? Does Apple have all the good software engineers locked up in a room somewhere? It certainly seems that way. The next generation of iPod could be a crucial one. With the numbers of players now beating the iPod for features, the rest of the industry is actually putting some genuine pressure on. It just keeps letting itself down by not getting the whole package right.

The big debate is whether the next iPod will finally support video. Whatever Apple does it’s likely to be the biggest change for the iPod since the release of the third-gen device and possibly it’s most radical ever. And with more risk comes an increased chance of a wobble in its juggernaut like success, making it a potentially a ripe time for others to move in. To do that though, Apple’s competitors need to be ready, not only with great hardware but with a completely polished package. Otherwise it’ll be the same old tune of, “Nice Video, Shame About the Software”. Based on what I’ve seen from the rest of the industry though, I’m not holding my breath.

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