M:Robe from Olympus is one of the harbingers of portable multimedia convergence.
If you've been following the iPod revolution, you know that Apple has been riding one of the gnarliest consumer electronics waves of our time. Call it the "cell phone/kitchen sink" paradigm, where manufacturers have piled features onto features: camera on phone on MP3 player on video, all in search of the next big thing. I'm as guilty as the next guy in being dubious about cell phone cameras when they first came out, but clearly they're a hit. Camera phones bring out the amateur paparazzi in all of us; and if they're not bona fide, multi-megapixel digital cameras yet, they probably will be soon.
The iPod has become the poster child for convergence. Specifically, this icy-cool, user-friendly, miniature flagship product of the MP3 revolution has buoyed Apple's flagship product line-the Macintosh computer-which has surprised some people for more than a decade by continuing to sail through a market mined by Wintel machines. Steve Jobs and his iPod squad continue to have the last laugh. Their most recent innovation (which debuted about the same time that U2 "Vertigo" spot was bombarding network TV with thousands of GRPs) was the new iPod that stores and plays photos along with tunes.
Apple is by no means the only franchise in the portable electronics league, even if it does have the Michael Jordan of MP3 players on its roster. We saw a few products at the Consumer Electronics Show in January that might help to rewrite the rules for handheld entertainment. One was the M:Robe 500 from Olympus, a company that you might know better as a camera maker. The M:Robe is a device with features that lift it above the digital run-of-the-mill. In this case we're talking about a handheld device with a 3.7-inch, hi-res VGA touchscreen. It combines a 20GB hard drive, 1.3 megapixel digital camera, MP3 player with earbud headphones, and an innovative software package that lets you mix music and photos into your own music videos. Connect it via the docking station and USB cable to your computer to transfer pics and music. As The Doors once advised, keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel. MSRP is $499.
Along the same lines, you should also check out the X2 MEGA View 566 8-in-1 Portable Multimedia Player. Get ready for the kitchen sink, folks, because it's comin' at ya! The X2 is a video player, personal video recorder, photo viewer, MP3 player, SD/MMC memory card reader, 20GB portable storage device, and FM radio receiver and voice recorder all in one package that goes for $449-the same price as the Olympus.
Finally, here's another product that might be perfect for your mobile lifestyle: the Samsung Sports Cam. We saw the Samsung product manager wearing the camera on his head at CES. It's a headband with a mounted camera, and a remote, rugged, rubberized camcorder that you can stash in your pocket. If you like to go off-roading in your truck, this might be the perfect way to take videos of your adventures. Just one piece of advice: the image stabilizer can only handle so much jiggle, so don't plan to use the 10x optical zoom when you're capturing a bumpy trail ride unless you want your audience to get nauseous watching your documentary.
Where's all this portable multimedia technology going? No one really knows yet. If portable multimedia players like these become nearly as successful as Apple's MP3 player, then we don't doubt that companies will come up with automotive-integration schemes for them that are similar to those recently developed for iPod. Taking it a step further, we're guessing that satellite TV is probably coming to devices like this, plus navigation, cell phone, and e-mail. How about that Dick Tracy wristwatch videophone? Get ready to place your orders.