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back to article Ten years old: the world's first MP3 player

The MP3 player is ten years old this month. The first commercially released personal music player capable of handling MP3 files was the MPMan F10, manufactured by Korea's Saehan Information Systems and launched in March 1998. The F10 contained 32MB of Flash storage, enough for a handful of songs encoded at 128Kb/s. It measured …

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Interesting why Sony were so late to play

It would be interesting to find out why Sony were so late to the market. They were uniquely placed with their existing Walkman brand to almost seize the market, but instead let Apple take it from under their nose.

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Heart

Philex Mpress

Wow, i had to have a look through my drawer and found my old Philex Mpress player. Its vintage 2000 (Maybe earlier?).

It has a horrible plastic look about it, internal 32meg with an additional 32meg memory card stuck in it (The card looks like a square dinner plate, its huge).

It was connected to a PC via a cable going to the printer port and was so slow to download music onto it that I had lost interest in the tunes I was putting on it by the time it was done.

I remember listening it and shaking it with glee noting how the music didnt skip, aww, those were the days...

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@Glenn - Sony

You have to remember two things;

1: Sony was trying to push ATRAC and MiniDisc as a going concern.

2: Ultimately they owned a record label who forbade them from using MP3.

It wasn't until the 2nd Gen ipods were around that Sony eventually relented from their atrac stance and allowed MP3's to be used. By then it was just too late.

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WOW, is it 10 years already?

I still have one of those jazpiper 32MB players that came out around the same time. Unusable since I no longer have a parallel port...

And while I'm typing this here: Many people have an old (but not that old) mp3 player they do not use anymore, but which they could give new life by loading Rockbox on it.

Rockbox is an alternative firmware that runs on many 'old' and newer players.

Get it (and check if your player is supported) on http://www.rockbox.org/

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Anonymous Coward

@Glenn - Sony had the MD

I think Sony weren't interested in MP3 at the time because they were pushing (in their own peculiarly ineffective way) MiniDisc players (and ATRAC)...

There are many discussions on line about what might have happened if they made a minidisc player that could play MP3 files - it was a good medium.

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*sob* thouse where the days

I rember my first mp3 player a cheep one with 16mb yes 16mb of memory and the size of a pack of cards but it is my second one I will allways rember mainley cos it fitted on my wirst

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jai
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re: Interesting why Sony were so late to play

i expect Sony were so late because they were still trying to get the world to believe in minidisc

i seem to recall they ended up making a MDplayer that you could hook up to the pc and download mp3 files to

got to admit, i was very dubious of the mp3 'revolution' - being a minidisc person all through the 90s. it was only the arrival of the iPod (being an Apple fanatic) that convinced me to switch

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Jobs Horns

Rumours

I've heard fairly reliable rumours that Sony had a prototype hard disk walkman long before the iPod went on sale, but the project was killed at the behest of the BMG part of the business.

Oops and indeed, oops.

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@Glenn

Sony were late because they're not a monolithic company. Sony Electronics were more than willing to get into the player market, but Sony Records were not keen on the idea unless they could find a technological solution to copying (good luck guys) - which is why we've had to put up with SonicStage.

Apple, has no such split personality and jumped into the gaping hole that said 'make something for the average person' which had traditionally been Sony's preserve.

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I had one of those

the MPMAN.. swapped it for my minidisk player in 6th year at school when some boy got it for xmas and didnt want it

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Dan

The First One ?

blimey. I've got one of these in a cupboard at home. Didn't realise it was the first one.

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Anonymous Coward

The casio mp3 watch

I have an ancient casio mp3 watch at home (a present, not the kind of thing i'd buy!) Actually, it was pretty good for exercising with, and I could fit a good 20 or so tunes in the 32mb of memory with some careful tweaking of the mp3 encoder (goodbye stereo, hello 22khz :)

Unfortunately, it was yet another product that had potential but was let down by absolutely awful software. Praise be to itunes, you have your deficiencies, but at least you woke up the rest of the market and cleared all of that crap out.

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Les
Jobs Halo

Thomson Lyra

Another early player - used CF cards for content (I seem to recall a *huge* 32MB card). The fun bit was the parallel port card reader, which worked just fine under NT4, but didn't like Windows 2000 at first, which dates it to around 1999 or thereabouts.

It had a big enough display to tell you what was playing, wasn't all that big for the time, and worked moderately well.

I think I've still got it somewhere....

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Happy

@GG

Sony failed because they wanted us to use ATRAC on MiniDiscs. They refused to listen to sense until the dust had already settled.

I went from stacks of Walkmans to MiniDisc to Rio500 to iPod(s) to iPhone but the Rio was my first properly digital player. The Rio even worked with iTunes on OS9 back in the day. Ah, heady days of one album per memory card and a firmware upgrade to let 64MB cards work. Scarily, I could probably lay my hands on all the iPods, the MD and the Rio. Maybe I should nostalgically use the Rio one day this week out of respect.

ps. I now have Menieres Disease (ear disorder) and I wonder how much damage was caused by spending the 80s and 90s with headphones on.

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MiniDisc

Sony were probably still up their own backside in love with MD (MiniDisc). While it was great and funky to own over a CD Discplayer, they should have spotted the mp3 player sooner with no moving parts... I guess they were too arrogant.

I love sony but sometimes they are up themselves too much. Apple brought them down to earth in the music player world

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Heart

MPMan F20.

I had a F20 - that boasted a smart memory card slot on top of the 32MB internal memory. Not that I ever got a memory card, way too pricey back then.

I'd actually won it from a precursor of toluna and similar sites, it was really early days for those sites too, which made it easy to grab a decent prize, and it was a time when signing up for offers didn't mean you had to put in credit card details.

It was possible to fit 7 or 8 songs at 128kbps on it for about 30min, which actually made it quite nice for my short commute back then.

It felt really light too, which was a nice change from the old walkman or cd player back then.

I've still got it somewhere, although I think I've lost the cable. So I might be stuck with the same 8 songs from 1999/2000!

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Paris Hilton

Re: Interesting why Sony were so late to play

Sony were "so late" because until very recently they still believed that minidisk was the future, and blindly kept trying to force their own standards such as atrac.

This is also the reason the entire industry is so stunned at the bluray victory, Sony have never before won a format war!

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Rob
Paris Hilton

Quality

I had one of these just after the MPMan I believe, unfortunately I can't remember exactly what it was called, I remember having to make my mp3's VBR as it was the only way to get a whole album on there, it was fantastic

Paris, as she's probably got about as much in her head as the MPMan had (actually, theres probably a hell of a lot more empty space)

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@Glenn

Because sony already had their digital player, the MiniDisc, which was a higher quality sound than MP3. Of course, the file format was proprietary (ATRAC), and although it was licensed quite widely, Sony never really marketed the idea, not made it simple for users to download from the Internet (although ripping CDs is simple). Now of course, the Sony Connect Store is closed, so the only easy way is to rip CDs again.

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Anonymous Coward

And, 10th birthday for...

...RIAA stupidity.

The handwriting was clearly on the wall in 1998 -- even earlier if you consider the likes of DAT and other digital recording capability that became available to the general consumer market.

So I continue to have less than zero sympathy for the music industry and the RIAA. They've had over 10 years to drag their dinosaur-like business model into the 21st century and still haven't managed to do so.

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Pirate

It's name was Rio

I had one of those Rio players on release. The idea was great but it took years for the storage capacity increase and pricing drop before players became any cop.

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Stu
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Wow!

Amazing bit of old tech there.

The Archos Jukebox 6000 was my first MP3 player. I didn't realise it came out only two years along from this old beastie, it was 6Gb instead of 32Mb!!

Painful to use, battery life sucked really badly due to the HD, it was slow to use and doing so drained the battery even more! But all that capacity was groundbreaking. Plus it used NiMh battery chemistry!!

Many years later I went for a 1st gen iPod Nano at 4Gb, effectively a downgrade in capacity but infinitely better in all aspects.

.

Would I be right in surmising that MP3 players are the primary drive behind the meteoric rise in flash based memory capacities? That and USB memory sticks of course.

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I still have my PMP300...

...but no parallel port to plug it into.

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Alert

RE

'Apple's move to allow Windows PC owners to use the iPod, from April 2003, resulted in explosive growth'

Firstly, Apple didn't make the ipod. They blatently ripped off creative and ended up paying millions in damages.

Secondly, in 2003 mp3's were relatively unheard of outside of technology and gadget circles. Apple employed their usual 'throw shedloads of money at marketing' tactic and came up with a sleek design, that put ipod in the minds of the masses as the first mp3 player and a must have item. It had nothing to do with opening itunes up to windows, just clever hype marketing.

Thirdly, compared to other mp3 players, the ipod is crap but is the more recognised brand and personally even if it was the best on the planet, my hard earned cash is never going to fund the 'church of jobs'

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Happy

got one

I have a MPMan F10 here, still works.

was gonna chuck it on ebay, wonder what it's worth

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@Glenn

Sony were late to the party because they couldnt get their heads round the idea that portable music meant digital music.

They wanted something to control, a revenue stream, and the prospect of people sharing music, or even purchasing only the good songs from an album and not the fillers, terrified them.

So its no surprise they put it off - they didnt want to kill the CD business, which they mistakenly thought was the future.

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my poor old rio...

fell out of my pocket on the way home, shame i was riding a motorbike. it was very dead, i recovered it beofre it got splattered by any cars, but it was very dead. now i've got an 8GB sony erricson. 32MB, pah. i threw away the 32MB card from my camera and put a 2GB card in. it's amazing how data requirements have grown so much.

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@Glenn Gilbert.

Weren't Sony still pushing minidisc and ATRAC encoding as the format for portable digital music players at the time?

If I did my sums correctly, 32Mbytes at 128kbits/second as in the early players is only 34 minutes of music, while a minidisc at the time could store 80 minutes of music at a bit rate of nearly 300kbits/second on a cheap re-writeable disc.

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I had one

32mb memory with a parallel port connection that took so long to put the music on the thing, I still remind my friend about the time he said that i was wasting my money on this mp3 thing he insisted that mini-disc was the future.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Sony, MiniDisc etc

Sony had digital music players out long before Apple did - some nice ones too. Yes, they used ATRAC, but no, they weren't sidelined because of Sony's love of MiniDisc. Like many other such players, they were just too darned expensive and - crucially IMHO - had too small a capacity.

But Sony's kit was a darn sight better looking than all the plastic rubbish coming out of Taiwan and Korea at the time.

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Joke

But Shirley...

...Apple invented the MP3 player, just like they invented the smartphone?

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Jobs Horns

ATRAC?

"[Sony] were uniquely placed with their existing Walkman brand to almost seize the market, but instead let Apple take it from under their nose."

Its been said that Sony opted for really obnoxious DRM and that that was their downfall. I don't know if their players would *only* play atrac and not MP3, but if so, there's your answer. What kind of idiot would buy atrac files, or encode their own stuff to atrac, and by doing so lock themselves completely into Sony?

Sony do seem to have a fixation with DRM, even violating their customers' trust and engaging in certainly unethical and probably illegal behaviour in pursuit of "protecting" Sony-BMG content:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/11/10/sony_sued_for_rootkit/

Apple, by contrast, tries to tip the balance towards the end-user. I think that's helped Apple's sales, although it has annoyed the labels, who now seem to be trying to cut out the iTMS by denying it some content. But Apple did originally persuade the music labels to allow fairly generous terms on the iTMS and the labels were happy enough to go along with that. You could certainly get better deals from the iTunes Store than the deals Microsoft's "partners" (the "partners" they were later to shaft with the Zune) were offering with PlaysForSure -- and those good terms may have helped sell iPods. But the main point of a portable has always been not downloads but that you could rip your CDs and put them on there.

Steve Ballmer was way out of line when he claimed most tracks on portables are "stolen":

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/10/04/ballmer_ipod_thieves/

Most content on iPods (and other portables) -- _pace_ the Monkey Boy -- seems to be rips of people's *own* CDs. But maybe Ballmer has changed his tune now the Zune is available for sale.

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Gates Horns

OMG!! Rewriting Apples "rewritten" iPud History!! Big Trouble!

You're in Big Trouble now! Little bastard Stevie Jobs has spent the last less than a decade convincing the World that he, the Great iNOvator, Invented the Pocket Media Player! Now you've undone all that PR Bullshit that Apple has spent so much time on!

What Next??

Un-rewrite the history that the Newton wasn't before the Psion, or a host of other "one-piece" computers like the Kay Pro and Osborne were before the Mac, or a host of other Apple phony iNOvator claims, or the greatest atrocity that there were GUI Smart Phones before the iPhony!!??

The Great iNOvator Stevie is probably right now ramping up the Apple PR canons!

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Alert

@AC, MP3s unheard of in 2003?

In 2003, Napster had already been shut down for two years. Everybody+Dog had heard of MP3s by 2001.

I'll let someone else deal with the "Apple didn't make the ipod" bollocks; it's an obvious troll and I'm not falling for it.

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Jobs Horns

hahah, ipod.

my friend, bless her wanted an ipod, i told her to get anything but an ipod, but she wanted one "because it's pink" this was 6 years ago, if that's the mentality people have when buying technology is it no wonder apple are still in business?

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Stop

@AC

wow such vitriol!

firstly: so what? they could afford to.

secondly: that'd be a good thing for the rest of the market surely?

thirdyly: I think thy're pretty good/get a life.

The way I see it itunes won the day becuase it's actually usable.

And surely if the ipod looked good and works well then that's a good thing?

for the record, I have a 2nd gen nano which get's well abused and it's still going strong (witht he exception of the shite headphones that went in the bin early doors for a new pair of shures), no other apple products. I use wintel at work AND home.

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TS

Rio had problems

It had a horrible battery life. Not that it used a lot of power, but the battery door wouldn't stay closed and the battery would fall out. A lot of people had problems with that, and it just didn't look as sexy with a rubber band holding the door closed.

I used it for a long time, but eventually upgraded to something with more memory.

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Happy

Re: I still have my PMP300...

Well, there exist LPT/USB convertors but the price of these roughly equals that of a new device ;)

Btw, if you can't use the Diamond software, try Dreaming of Brazil

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Ash

Ahhh, MiniDisc...

I remember being sold a minidisc player at my local Dixons about 10 years ago (still at college, a little green as far as technology and sales pitches went). I bought one for £200 which came with a USB adapter and claimed it could "record MP3's to MiniDisc!" I even asked the guy who showed me the model, who said it would do it.

And it did! MP3's were recorded to minidisc as raw audio, and I ended up £200 down on kit that didn't do as promised, or so I thought.

So I don't buy Sony licensed music anymore :D

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Rio! hahah

I still have my 32MB Rio in some storage box :) ahh how I loved to hear the same 8 tracks over and over again at school... everybody thought the MiniDiscs were the next big thing - at a time when I was running around with my non-moving part MP3 player.... - oh how I laugh now ;)

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Anonymous Coward

Sony

Sony realised around 2000 that they needed to get into the market, so they started releasing ATRAC players using flash Memory (using, of course, Memory Sticks). They had dreadful PC software but the players themselves were quite nice; I had the NW3 I think. Now, the word at the time was that they wanted to use these players to push Memory Sticks and didn't want to take the HDD route at all.

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IT Angle

Sony

Sony won the Blu-Ray wars beacuse they finally managed to co-ordinate three different parts of teh business - consumer electronics, games division and the movie division, all three being one of the biggest players in their respective markets. If they can keep doing that with future product launches then watch out.

I still don't use a lot of MP3's, i'm still a CD and dare i say it Vinyl man.

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Jobs Horns

@Jared

http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2006/08/24/apple_settles_with_creative/

$100mil

'nuff said

http://www.afterdawn.com/news/archive/4380.cfm

Showing sales only really started in 2003, i.e. when mp3s had been brought to the attention of the masses and sales suddenly tripled. I stand by what I said, before that they were in the realm of techies and gadget freaks

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Probably arrived late to the scene, but...

My first MP3 player was a Creative Jukebox. The 20GB model I believe. Looked just like a CD player. Still works as well! I think before that I was using an MP3 CD player, which at the time amazed all my friends.

I may still have that as well, haha.

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So funny to see people suffer with non Apple MP3 players

I think it's funny when someone bashes Apple, uses a 3rd party MP3 player, and then you see them struggle with the software, or user interface, or poor battery life, or inability to handle lossless compression, etc. etc.

I just laugh at anyone who doesn't use iTunes or an iPod for MP3s.

If you are using an iPod kudos. Whether you chose it because you liked the color, or the technical merits of being able to scroll to your artist faster, or knowing the chips used internally and the battery are better than the competitors doesn't matter. You made the right choice.

Anyone who doesn't like the iPod or iTunes.... do you use Windows as an OS? Because if you do, you cannot claim to take the high road and be choosing products based on quality. If you use a non-Windows OS, ok, you're still ok in my book.

iPod on.

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I still have mine!

I've still got one of those F10's in the back of a storage box in the loft :D

It was great (at the time) was a lot flashier than those minidisk guys at my College who could not believe that it didn't need disks..... lol!!

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W
Coat

MiniDisc and Betamax actually won!

I had my hopes pinned on DCC personally.

When that lost out to Minidisc, I was gutted.

As for Betamax thrashing the CED format...

Sony for teh win111one!!1

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Boffin

Ah so it wasn't the Rio after all...

I always thought about Rio, but then, I heard about the Rio MP3 player until late 2000. Hell, 10 years ago I was leeching mp3's from FTP sites that came and went around the net, the olden days before P2P, Napster or Audiogalaxy. (In my opinion, Audiogalaxy was the best of those first-gen P2Ps 'coz the "central node" managed all the file-finding and stuff, but that's another story.) Heh, I had a Walkman back then ... with "digital" stuff like auto-searching FM/AM stations, 20 presets, and AVLS (so I wouldn't hurt my eardrums with excessive sound).

MP3's were not "obscure stuff" by 2003. Anyone under 21 would have known mp3's by then, as when the format became "popular" (1998), it quickly spread amongst college and highschool students worldwide. Proof of it is that I returned from my school vacation to find lots of my buddies showing off their 300+ "CD-Quality" music collections fitting in 600Mb. Ok, my school went into a compulsory "student+laptop" program on that same year, so that and campus broadband helped a bit.

The iPod came out as a "rich kiddie" toy, nice but expensive, and Mac-only, which that alone excludes like 90%+ of the whole market. Even when it went Windows, I didn't like it because it's expensive, and the iTunes requirement. The quantity of mp3's I now have is so huge I prefer segmenting it into folders, and I copy those folders using mass-storage protocols instead. My sister's got an iPod, and prefers to let iTunes synch whatever there is to the iPod than spend 8 hours ticking/unticking checkboxes.

Me? I used to have my W300, with an iPod-ish menus and my only complain was having to traverse the lists. My current Blackberry has text-searching and the "trackball" so that isn't even a problem anymore. ;) I would've liked Sony to do the mp3 Walkman back then. Oops!

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Net MD

I still can't beleive there is no way to digitally read YOUR OWN microphone recordings from a sony netMD.

My first computer hard drive was FULL height (i.e. twice size current CD/DVD drives) 5.25" 5MByte. My pocket sized Archos PMP has 160GByte, 27 years later... I got fed up messing with SD cards.

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Happy

How could you forget the EmPeg?

Sure, it's not a mobile device... but it was a British design, and my one still works just fine. A lovely piece of engineering for its time, first shipped in 1999...

see http://www.empeg.com/

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