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Handhelds Hardware

Can Open Source Outdo the IPod? 484

CHaN_316 writes "Wired is running an article entitled, "Can Open Source Outdo the IPod?" Asking the open source community to help them compete with the iPod. From the article: 'Consumer electronics manufacturer Neuros Audio is tapping the open-source community to convert its upcoming portable media player from iPod road kill into a contender [...] To get the ball rolling, Neuros recently opened up the firmware code for its Neuros 442 portable media player, which is set to launch in January [...] Neuros' hardware design is complete, comprising a Texas Instruments dual-core digital signal processor, a 3.6-inch, 65,000-color TFT display and a 40-GB hard drive for recording video from a TV or home entertainment system. But the company has left a little something -- mostly user interface tweaks -- for the volunteers.' Is this a good idea or a mere publicity stunt?"
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Can Open Source Outdo the IPod?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:19PM (#13936064)
    You can't record decent quality audio (8khz!), and you still can't play Ogg Vorbis or FLAC. They've obviously got enough power to do that now.
  • PR (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gtrubetskoy ( 734033 ) * on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:20PM (#13936072)

    From TFA "Most open-source projects do fail because they typically don't have full-time employees, but only a few volunteers who a lot of times are kids," Born [the CEO] said.

    ... and some CEO's need to grow up, I'll be off to buy a nano, which works without the "help from the open source community" (who are mostly kids, mind you).

    My guess is this article is just some paid (and poor quality) PR. Read this [] to learn more about how these articles end up published.

  • Damn good idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by COMON$ ( 806135 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:22PM (#13936095) Journal
    While I do own an IPod, I would drop it in an instant if I could have a nice open source digital music player that I wouldnt be forced to use one program for itunes. Perhaps if sucessfull this will start a new trend in digital phones, blackberries, PDAs, or any other portable device.
  • Open source UIs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:24PM (#13936120) Homepage Journal
    Most of the time, open source UIs are worse than their commercial brethren because they lack a cogent, coherent tack. You can't win just by adding features. An iPod does exactly, precisely what it should do and not a single thing more.

    I can think of a few examples of really brilliant open-source UIs: Firefox and Eclipse come to mind. So it's not impossible. But in those cases the amazingly solid core UI was developed by key players, and other developers contributed functionality.

    So I'm gonna guess that the answer in this case is "almost certainly not".
  • UI design (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ThaFooz ( 900535 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:31PM (#13936208)
    is the open source community's biggest weakness. I don't see a group whose expertise does not include consistency and documentation working for free to save a clunky device which offers no price/performance advantage over the iPod (a $365 price tag).
  • Re:Synergy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Scruffeh ( 867141 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:32PM (#13936223)
    It's white and looks like a tiny fridge, what more could anyone want? Even if someone came up with a better UI with more features the iPod would win because it looks cool and does exactly what it's supposed to
  • by CDPatten ( 907182 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:33PM (#13936230) Homepage
    the iPod is just a cool trend. It won't last forever. Open Source, Creative, Sony, and others will all eventually catch up, and pass apple.

    There is nothing incredibly brilliant about the iPod software, its the hardware that make it a top seller. Like most things, it will only be a matter of time before Steve Job's greed and closed circuit mentality has them loose market share. We saw it with the Apple hardware, their OS, and we will see it happen with the iPod.

    We have already started to see it with the iTunes store, the iPod's "enabler" or "dealer" has made some pretty big missteps. Steve is pissing off the owners of the music he sells (talking bad about them in the press over and over is a big mistake), and they are ACTIVELY looking to others to replace him. He is giving them money now, but others can do that, all he has done is effectively made enemies of the companies he relies on to make the iPod a success.

    There is no doubt, Open Source WILL be a player in unseating the iPod. Not the only player, but a contributor.
  • Re:Not likely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:34PM (#13936252)
    What? I have a Dell DJ that came with a scroll wheel and also has intelligent playlists. I can pull up by artist, album, genre, etc.

    The black/silver/blue glow is also sexier than an iPod, IMO, but that's just a matter of taste.

  • by chia_monkey ( 593501 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:42PM (#13936328) Journal
    The iPod, obviously. But what exactly are they going after? The interface? That's it? Whoopty do. When the iPod first came out, there were bunches of mp3 players on the market. People thought the iPod was too expensive and thus would fail. Yet here we are now. Why did it succeed? Simple use (an Apple hallmark), iTunes was amazingly easy to use (an Apple hallmark), but mainly because iTunes had the support of the major labels while no other service really did. So why would a MAINSTREAM consumer buy anything but an iPod? They have more LEGAL music choices and something easy to use. Here we are now with the iPod and iTunes dominating the market. Competitors tried fighting on price (both with player and song). That didn't work. They tried fighting with design. Nope. So just how in the hell do they think they'll win over Average Joe consumer and his three kids on an open source product that may change with each revision? Plus...I think with Apple adding video to both iTunes and the iPod pretty much sealed the fate of all the competitors.
  • by Tony ( 765 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:09PM (#13936571) Journal
    The Neuros 442 is not intended to be an iPod killer; it's designed to be a portable multimedia device. It'll play and record video. Its MP3 playback is far superior to the iPod. And, you don't have to spend $400 to hack on this device: you can get a developer board [] for about $160.

    Anyway, I'm on the list for a board when they become available; and I am listening to the Eels on my 442 right now. For an MP3 device, the interface is not impressive but the playback is; as a portable video device, it's tre cool.
  • by chmod u+s ( 211367 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:15PM (#13936627) Journal

    That said, as nice a gesture as this is, the iPod is a lot more than just its firmware. That clickwheel interface is pretty amazing--I haven't used such an intuitive device interface in a long time

    I suppose I am the only person in the whole world who finds the ipod physical interface totally "the suck" and the software unintuitive. I thought the original jog wheels were cool just because they were retro, smooth and elegant - but the whole rub your finger around a touchpad? weak! Is it a button? is it a touchpad? does a double touch do something different? What the hell? It probably makes sense for those that owned and understood the jog wheel version but as a johnny-come-lately, it is confusing at best. Couple that with the totally unintuitive 3rd party fm broadcasting thingies that require you to play and pause a song to broadcast FM and you have me sitting in the passenger seat on a roadtrip fiddling with the damn thing for hours just trying to get it to play a damn song.

    If that is the best interface out there... egads what must the worst one be like?

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) * on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:34PM (#13936760)
    The reason the iPod is the sucess it has become is very simple - word of mouth. Marketing gets people buying new products. Really amazing marketing (which I do not think the iPod has) gets you to perhaps 20-30% market share, but don't forget OTHER products are also marketing at the same time! And Marketing does not really help you to get people to buy second or third players if a person is not happy with what they have.

    The only way you achive utter market domination is by people liking a product so much they talk other people into buying it. Period. That is how a product becomes a lifestyle trend, like everything else it depends on people liking it. Why they like it is a combination of ease of use and ITMS and iTunes, but marketing comes a distant second.

    Do you HONESTLY think the Dell DJ or iRiver would enjoy the same market position right now if they had thought to use dancing shadows? Please. Are you such a sheep that marketing controls everything you buy? Please have a little respect for humanity and realize MOST people can actually resist marketing, even more so as we have become inured to it through over-exposure.

    How many times have you every heard people mention how much they like the iPod ads as opposed to the iPod itself?

    How many iPod ads do you even see in a week? I see perhaps one a month.

    To say the iPod sucess springs from marketing is to ignore a very valuable lession in human behaviour.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:34PM (#13936762)
    The "publicity" you get from a stunt targeted largely at the open source community is probably going to be worth less than the overall benefits you will reap by open-sourcing your product, though.

    Just out of curiosity....which benefits would those be? The Neuros was open sourced quite a while ago, and it went nowhere. Is there any open-sourced hardware that's really benefitting from the OSS community? I can see how it benefits a software-only product, and in theory, how hardware might benefit, but that doesn't seem to play out in practice.
  • I'm torn (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:37PM (#13936778) Homepage Journal
    It's a shame this even mentions the iPod. Yes, you can probably compete with the iPod in terms of making something that is simply better. As for competing with it, in terms of taking its market share, I suppose that depends on how many billions of dollars you're willing to spend on advertising. ;-)

    Some people mention the iTunes Music Store and iTunes. Whatever. Maybe this really is the appeal for many iPod users, I just don't know. I buy CDs and have no desire to reward DRM in the marketplace, so iTMS is useless to me. And as for iTunes, I haven't used it so I just don't have a clue as to how it is better than xmms; I just hear people rave about it. And why any of this would make a difference to someone regarding their portable music player (where you don't wanna run the same kind of software that you have on your desktop anyway), again, I just don't have a clue. So I gotta mostly plead ignorance on that. What I can say, is that none of that stuff matters to me so the lack of it doesn't count as a strike against any iPod competitors as far as I am concerned. But I'm only one guy and my pick never wins presidential elections either...

    Overall, I think the idea of having a tweakable UI is an extremely good idea. I was shocked by the irony of this:

    The open-source development model may have worked two years ago, he said, but it's doomed at a time when building a portable media player is as easy as putting together a PC.
    I would have thought that as hardware gets cheaper and easier to build -- in other words, more accessible -- amateur development only gets more and more capable. Doherty has it backwards.

    The thing is, I just don't know if I'll buy one. I bought the original Neuros, and it croaked. Then I used a laptop to play music in my car, and that killed the hard disk. I'm starting to think that any hard disk that I use in my car, where it's exposed to the New Mexico summer sun and the bumpy ride from my cheap car on its 40 psi tires, is doomed to a short lifespan. I love having music in my car, but I'm 0-and-2 right now. I think I'm going to have to switch to solid state, and that kind of storage still just isn't big/cheap enough yet (but it's coming).

    The inclusion of video in the latest devices is a mystery to me, but again, that's probably because I view these portable devices as being for car drivers, and obviously watching movies doesn't make sense in that place. I guess subway riders would see it differently.

  • by droopycom ( 470921 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @08:03PM (#13936970)
    It even outweight 2 ipods....

    Neuros (40G):
    136.1 x 78 x 26.5

    Ipod (60G):
    103,5 x 61,8 x 14
    157 g

  • Re:Synergy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lost+Found ( 844289 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @08:17PM (#13937074)
    I think every single one of you is missing the point. First off, Neuros Audio, being in the business of making music players, has to either:

    (A) Attempt to sell their business;
    (B) Do something else with their time and money (why have multiple vendors in a market anyway);
    (C) Simply die;


    (D) compete with Apple.

    The fact that they are alive means there is currently room for them on the market. The Slashdot submission, as is the norm, has a slant worse than the article it links. There's a big difference between being an iPod contender and an iPod killer (that's not to say Neuros wouldn't want to be an iPod killer, and not to say that they might not be some day).

    Neuros Audio's move doesn't have to be of the magnitude to dethrone the iPod in order to be wise.

    Hell, I think it's a spectacular idea anyway... we need more hardware manfacturers willing to open up to the community. Think about what state instant messaging would be in if the operators still held a lock on who could program for their networks. Think about what kind of lock is being held on consumer technology because open source can't go there (at least, it's been traditionally limited, but we've seen good movement with wireless routers, tivo, etc).

    In fact, if you want to kill the DRM bullshit, one idea is to triple your current rate of innovation. DRM is an attempt for the legacy greedy content industry to catch the back of technology's shirt as it goes running by, and with a little more lunge, we might just see the old model blow away like it damn well should. What better way to triple your rate of innovation than to invite legions of excited open source developers to something 'cool' they've never had before?
  • by daeley ( 126313 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @08:42PM (#13937266) Homepage is not a credible source. Nice try googling. Give it another shot. And you've managed to sidestep the parental post completely. It doesn't matter how big of a percentage per song. It matters how much cash per song. Even if your googletistic is correct, the record labels are taking 65% of 99 cents. Do you think the artist is seeing any of that?

    Best Buy sells their CDs below cost, by the way, as a loss leader to get people into their stores, so that's not the stellar example you wish it were. Check out Record Contract Basics [] for more detail. The band is lucky to see $1 on a full-priced %16.98 sold at retail.

    Bottom line, if you want to support the artists, attend their concerts and buy merchandise straight from them -- that's the only way they see any reasonable amount of money.
  • by idlake ( 850372 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @08:52PM (#13937330)
    That clickwheel interface is pretty amazing--I haven't used such an intuitive device interface in a long time.

    I have about a dozen MP3 players, and the clickwheel is not very good: it's too hard to control precisely and it's modal.

    It's the boring, mainstream MP3 players that are intuitive. Simple designs have separate buttons for play, pause, skip left/right, scan left/right, and volume up/down. And the directional pad, which has push to play/pause, up/down for volume, push left/right to skip, and hold left/right to scan, is probably the best of the controls: it's simple, it's tiny, and it's intuitive. The clickwheel doesn't even come close.

    The clickwheel is great branding, but only tolerable usability.
  • The Appliance Factor (Score:3, Interesting)

    by catdevnull ( 531283 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @08:52PM (#13937332)
    I think we, as members of the geek culture, are often jaded by the technical downsides to successfully marketed products and we always like to knock what's on top and point out the flaws. The market is a bit less demanding technically so let's set the issue of technical quality aside for just one moment (I'll come back to it in a moment).

    For the past 20 years, the home computer (Mac, PC, or other) has gone from a geeky little gadget to a household necessity. The success of the Win-Tel marketshare owes most of its success to the price point to help ensure its status as ubiquitous. Windows PCs are everywhere on the planet--look at your security logs if you're not completely convinced. They nearly drove the Mac to extinction and succeeded in killing off OS/2, BeOS, Amiga, etc. into obscurity. But there was always the promise of the next version finally being better and bug free.

    Lately, though, as gadgets have become more sophisticated and easier to use, the computer has actually become the stop gap between people and their digital bliss. Along comes Apple with its iPod--and applicance that does one thing very easily. It's a success.

    I don't think Apple's status as a giant corporation with marketing power is the deal breaker--if that were true, the Mac would be much more prominent. I think the simplicity and product design is what consumers want.

    The only people I ever hear bitch about the iPod are geeks who aren't afraid of buttons or Ogg/Vorbis.

    There's something to be said about the computer and its peripherals being marketed as appliances. I think that's what most people want--a simple push-a-button Jetson's world that doesn't require tinkering or tweaking.

    So, if the Open Source community wants to build a better iPod, they'd better figure out a way to beat the iPod on the simplicity front because 80% of the players purchased out there don't seem to care about the price point or features slashdotters bitch about.
  • Re:Synergy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Van Halen ( 31671 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @08:54PM (#13937345) Homepage Journal
    Now, the iRiver is vastly superior to the iPod

    Honest questions:

    Does it play AAC? Does it support on-the-fly updating playlists based on arbitrary logical rules? Does it update metadata like "play count" and "last played time" every time a song is played? Does it automatically synchronize with the music library software (songs, metadata, playlists) every time it's connected? Including aforementioned updated metadata? Does it allow you to make new playlists on the go? Does it play albums with absolutely no gap in between tracks (not even the small gap introduced by some audio formats like MP3)?

    The iPod does all the but the last, and if any other product doesn't do these things, I consider it clearly inferior. I'm looking for a replacement due to the gap issue that Apple refuses to address, so I'm genuinely curious about the iRiver. However, I'm not willing to give up any aspect of the excellent experience to get gapless. All other features (FM, video, etc) are a waste of time to me. Just make it play and manage my music in the best way possible.
  • by KathrynBorn ( 928062 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @11:23PM (#13938148)
    Hi All, This is Kathryn Born, I'm Joe Born's sister and have been with Neuros since the first product was conceived. Joe is on a long flight, so I'll write in the meantime. I'll just throw in a couple things. One, analyst shmanalyst. Completely subjective. But we're not an iPod killer. There's a slashdot article when we came out in 2003 calling us an iPod killer and I assure you, no iPods have been harmed in by the success of Neuros. Neuros has a totally different customer base. One of the biggest tech support problems that Apple has is that people don't know that they need a computer to use their iPod. The key arena in which we really go head to head with a product like iPod, isn't open source, but the fact that the 442 can act like a digital VCR, it can record anything that plays on your TV. People have already paid for their content, and this product lets you make a high-quality recording without an additional fee. We feel like we're the last of the independent manufacturers who fight for fair use rights. Historically, Sony fought for the VCR, the DAT recorder, the MP3 player, but now that they have their own studios, can we expect them to defend consumers rights? Now that Rio is gone, can we expect Apple to insure that mp3s remain free and clear? So that's my 2 cents. Please keep an eye on the Neuros Technology site, as we're launching a new product in the next week or two. If you get on the gamma email list, I'll write to you when it's released. Take care everyone, Kathryn

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