Content, standards and audio player hardware

When we started experimenting with podcasting, one reason we chose iRiver devices was because they required nearly zero technical support ... and because Partha recommended them ;-) The iRiver devices were among the most widely supported MP3 players: their support for the UMS standard was one reason for that and for our selection of the iRiver gear.

As the marketplace evolves (thanks to iTunes and Apple) iRiver wants to work with bigger players in the media universe, like Microsoft and those ever protective suppliers of content to Microsoft's new download service. As a result, some of iRiver's latest series of devices have switched to using MTP instead of the UMS standard for media transfer/storage. We have been successful in making their newer players work with one software configuration (using Windows Media Player > version 10). But that particular setup represents a smaller percentage of computer users than those equipped to use their older hardware. To get the new player to work you need to install drivers and software to get Windows Media Player running on your computer and able to talk to the the device - and you need Administrator privileges. One thing this means for us is that getting the player/recorder to work well - i.e. so that it's easy to loan them out to users - will become a bit much more troublesome. Once upon a time everything used to appear as a USB device and it was so simple!

Why the change? My bet is that it is so iRiver can start to provide better support for a set media industry related technologies that may or may not incorporate DRM in the future and thereby gain access to more content. You don't want to be locked out of valuable rereleases of Madonna's greatest hits! iRiver's own FAQ sort of proves how "strategic" this support is. Their devices have successfully evolved from a flexible audio recorder/players to an endpoint in the digitally protected media value chain. The medium is the message and content is king here that's for sure: the legal framework governing content ownership shapes what kind of technology "solutions" appear on the horizon and in the world of media content the bias is not towards flexible tools that empower consumers :-)

But wait, there's hope! And it comes from iRiver! Apparently the iRiver MTP T10 firmware can be reflashed to support UMS. See for more info.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has launched their own media player hardware (I wonder if it will work better with MS-WMPlayer than iRiver's devices!) and Apple is discussing DRM free content with EMI.

[Posted by Graham Todd]