Backstage: iPod, iPod, iPod, iRiver

Even though the site is named iLounge (hint: the slogan’s “All things iPod”), I try to write a feature story at least once a month dealing with new and potentially competing technology developed by Apple’s competitors. Having owned a handful of iPod competitors and quasi-competitors, and as someone who has used both PCs and Macs over the past 20 years, I still take great interest in what’s going on outside Apple’s fishbowl, and have no hesitation to discuss good new ideas regardless of who is responsible for them.

More than a few comment threads and reader e-mails have posed a good question to me personally: “what do you think about iRiver?” For those unfamiliar, iRiver’s a Korean electronics manufacturer that offers MP3-compatible devices with good looks, features, and value for the dollar. And to answer the question squarely, I like iRiver’s products. The lower-end ones are cheap, small, and pretty functional, while the higher-end ones are made to appeal to people like me: people who like digital music, digital photography, tons of menu options and music encoding standards, plus frills like color screens and the occasional built-in camera feature – in other words, new technology for the sake of new technology. In my opinion, given their embrace of cool ideas and open standards, they’re a far better music competitor to Apple (and others) these days than Sony, a company that gets way too much credit from casual journalists.

As I’ve said to people before, I’ve purchased iRiver products and even mentioned them in a few iLounge pieces where relevant. But unlike 99% of the companies (their competitors) we’ve contacted, their U.S. arm hasn’t responded to product-related inquiries. A British journalist recently opined to me that iRiver’s U.S. operation may not be as responsive as their European arm, and mentioned that “their products would do very well if only they were better promoted and supported.” I completely agree. “If only.” So until they respond, I won’t have much more to say about iRiver, but at least you’ll know that I’ve been trying to get them to play ball here.

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