My first meeting of the day was with Creative Labs. An interesting story - for at least 4 trade events, Creative has always been my first meeting, and always early in the morning. Of course, this meant that with the hectic first-day mayhem, it was very easy to be late to a meeting, and I was late by varying times for a couple of them. Luckily, everyone is usually caught off-guard, and therefore I was never really late.
The most interesting device shown at Creative was the Nomad portable audio player. Bearing a not-so-coincidental similarity to an existing line of Samsung MP3 players, the Nomad is tiny, comparable in size to a standard business card. It ships with 32MB of integrated Flash memory to store and play MP3s loaded from your personal computer.
What's an MP3? Mpeg 1 Layer 3 is a form of compressed audio, currently popular over the Internet for its high quality and small file size. At standard encoding (44KHz, 128Kbps) MP3 stores one minute of audio in one megabyte of space. Compared to 10MB per minute for a standard compact disc, MP3 offers nearly the same performance in a greatly diminished size.
Haven't we seen this before?
There are a few "portable Internet music appliances" out on the market, namely the Rio
and Mp3Man, but the Nomad does things a little differently, and really stands out from the crowd. For one, it's offered in a slightly smaller package than the Rio or the Mp3Man, and ships in a magnesium alloy case (as opposed to plastic in the case of the Rio). The display includes a fully dot matrix scrolling text line to read the artist and title track of the song currently being played.
The Nomad fully supports variable bit rate encoding, allowing it to play back songs coded from "CD-quality" 44KHz,128Kbps to Internet streaming 22KHz, 24Kbps or anything in between or beyond. Creative still uses the uncomfortably standard 32MB = 60 minutes marketing talk, but for most of the song you'll download from the net, expect to get one minute per megabyte, unless you manually encode your songs lower.