Portable MP3 Player Sings for Six Hours

SAN FRANCISCO (04/21/2000) - The problem with portable MP3 players is that they just don't store enough music. But IBM Corp.'s Microdrive technology may change that.

At the size of a coin, the 340MB Microdrive can store up to 6 hours of MP3 music, 20 hours of voice recording, or about 300 novels, IBM officials say.

Taking advantage of all that storage capacity is the $499 EGo digital music player from I2Go.com. While most MP3 players come with 64MB or less of storage, the handheld eGo uses the Microdrive to play hours of music, e-mail, and Web content. Designed for use in your car, the EGo even records your dictated e-mail replies.

Tiny, Cheaper Storage

The 340MB Microdrive is a tiny hard disk designed for use in handheld products, says John Osterhout, marketing director of IBM Microdrive products.

CompactFlash compatible, it consumes less power than a standard hard drive but provides more storage than standard CompactFlash cards, he adds.

And it's cheaper. A 64MB CompactFlash card costs about $300, whereas the 340MB Microdrive is priced just under $400, Osterhout says. "MP3 players get a matchbook-sized storage device that holds the equivalent of a CD changer."

I2Go.com's EGo doubles the music storage with two Microdrive slots. "We use the 340MB Microdrive and include a second expansion bay to add another drive," says Lisa Solomon, marketing manager at I2Go.com.

Talking Back

Unlike most portable music players that simply store and play music, the EGo player, along with the desktop software and Web portal that accompany it, offers two-way communications, Solomon says.

When listening to the EGo, you can hit the "i" button to record a memo or voice reply to an e-mail, she says. A built-in microphone records your message, which is sent as an audio file by e-mail the next time you connect to the PC, she adds.

At I2Go.com's audio portal, you can select the music, news, sports, and weather information you want to hear on your player. A desktop media manager organizes the content and even creates audio copies of your POP3 e-mail. When you connect the player to your PC, it synchronizes with the audio manager, so that content and e-mail goes to the player while e-mail responses and memos you've created on the player go to the PC to be sent when you're next online.

The EGo comes with cables to connect it to a cassette or CD car stereo.

"We also include headphones and an internal speaker so you can listen to it when you're not in the car," Solomon says.

More to Come

The current EGo plays only MP3 files, but future models will also play other formats, Solomon says. Or you can simply upgrade your EGo through the firmware to play other formats.

Content stored on the Microdrive isn't locked to the EGo: It can be played on any hardware with a CompactFlash slot, Osterhout says.

As for IBM, the 340MB Microdrive is just the beginning for high-capacity media storage.

"We'll come out with higher-capacity drives that play even uncompressed CD-quality music files," Osterhout says. "Today's storage solutions don't allow enough playing time for that."

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