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  • Every Day: The Best of the Verve Years

    • 8 out of 10
    • Joe Williams
    • Joe Williams was Figure Two in my three-man education in singing. A brilliant vocalist, scatter, and interpreter of jazz and blues, Williams produces music that's totally unique, yet sounds so effortl
  • Mezzanine

    • 6 out of 10
    • Massive Attack
    • "Black Milk" knocks me off my feet in this collection of moody and eclectic songs. Massive Attack uses samples and keyboards in a very unique way, but not all the songs pack the same punch.

  • Hello

    • 8 out of 10
    • Poe
    • Poe rocked my world with "Angry Johnny" (I want to kill you/I want to blow you/Away) and "Trigger Happy Jack" (Trigger Happy Jack/ You're gonna blow/But I'm gonna get off/Before you go), as powe

  • Zooropa

    • 10 out of 10
    • U2
    • This record is perhaps U2's finest hour, yet it has been forgotten as a strange by-product of the ZooTV tour's overload, and is generally regarded by most fans as a poor effort. It is this sentiment t
  • Plans

    • 8 out of 10
    • Death Cab for Cutie
    • With the introduction of Plans, Death Cab for Cutie became a new addition to many user's Artist list after the single "Soul Meets Body" became a hit on iTunes. Offering a fresh alternativ

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Apple’s Competitors Talk MP3 Player Design in Fast Company

Fast Company's Web site currently features an expansion of an article that ran in the magazine. In it, six of Apple's rivals talk about MP3 player design and how they plan to beat the iPod. With Apple dominating the market, it's clear that some of them are struggling to figure out how to knock the king off the hill.

Dan Harden, who founded the design firm Whipsaw Inc., helped Rio fight back by being "radically different from Apple. Where Apple was sort of the ivory tower, we were going to be the dark rebel." He led the design of the Rio Carbon MP3 player, deciding to go for curves over the iPod's geometric look and trying to beat the company in the materials used and the battery life offered. Fast Company notes that the Carbon is second to the iPod mini in that segment of the market.

Ellen Glassman, general manager of brand design and strategy at Sony, opted for "a breadth of designs, price points, and features" in their new players. The magazine notes: "Early reviews of Sony's newest set of flash-based players say it's a strong contender to take on the iPod shuffle."

Dell, which entered the market with the Dell DJ in 2003, relies heavily on its usability lab, according to Steve Gluskoter, co-director of industrial design and usability for the company. "We bring in people across a broad demographic, from target customers to owners of our competitors' players, from teenagers to corporate executives," he says. As a result, he says they've learned a few things, such as the importance of putting a dedicated volume control button on the Pocket DJ or using fingerprint-resistant surfaces. "In the labs, we saw that people were incredibly annoyed by that with the iPod," Mr. Guskoter says of the latter.

Young Se Kim of Innodesign Inc., which designed iRiver's H10 MP3 player, says that he used a vertical touch pad because "I noticed lots of people using only one-quarter of the turn" of the iPod's click wheel." In contrast, Archos' Henri Crohas, founder and CEO of the company, was completely dismissive of the iPod's design, saying that "if you look inside the iPod's technology, it's quite common and unimpressive ... What Apple has done well isn't the iPod, but iTunes." He goes on to tout Archos' Gmini 400, which can play video on its LCD screen and which Fast Company says has outsold the 20GB iPod in Europe.

Finally, Creative's Sim Wong Hoo says his company decided to "outcool" the iPod by "looking into the whole concept of Zen, [which] is something simple yet powerful." He touts the Zen Micro's curvy design, choice of colors and "mesmerizing blue glow" as examples of that. He plans to put US$100 million into marketing this year in an attempt to tell consumers that their products include more features, such as voice recording and an FM tuner, at a lower price point. Fast Company notes that Creative is second to Apple in the MP3 player market.

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