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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July 2004, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
How digital became essential
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

More than 10 million people world-wide are expected to buy a digital music player in the next 12 months, according to a report. BBC News Online looks at the appeal of portable devices as Apple prepares its iPod mini for a global launch.

Digital music players
Digital players come in all shapes and sizes
Twenty-five years after Sony launched the Walkman and spawned a generation who never travel anywhere without a pair of headphones, digital music players have continued the revolution.

The Walkman gave people their own music on the move for the first time, but they were limited by the number of songs a CD or tape could hold.

The digital revolution changed all that. In the late 1990s, an explosion in illicit song-swapping over the internet created a market of people who could listen to songs on their PCs but do little else with them.

And so the digital music player was born.

The digital player was the next step in personal audio but when MP3 players first emerged on the market they seemed to present no threat to tape-based or CD portable players, holding just a handful of digital songs.

The devices were hugely popular with gadget fans but the limited storage meant many people abandoned them after a few months because it was too much effort to keep copying and deleting songs onto the devices.

Practical

The arrival of hard-disc players with huge storage capacity allowed thousands of songs to be stored on one device and for some it meant an entire collection of music could be stored on a player no bigger than a cigarette packet.

Walkman
The Walkman has come full circle with a new digital version
Suddenly the devices were transformed from digital curiosities to practical devices.

The early manufacturers were smaller, less well-known companies whose products sold to the tech-savvy.

Electronics giants such as Sony or Philips were slow to catch on, perhaps because the devices were not selling to the mass market.

But Apple's iPod propelled the digital music player onto the pages of lifestyle magazines, making the devices exciting, even sexy.

With an award-winning design, exclusive price tag and global marketing campaign behind it, the device became the must-have accessory of 2003.

Since then Sony and Philips have scrambled to enter the market and the early pioneers, such as Creative and Archos, have released players with more features, bigger capacity and longer battery life.

But arguably the appeal of digital music devices is not huge storage capabilities or swish looks but the control over music they give to people.

Mood music

With such a vast range of music on one device people can find songs which fit their mood.

Depressed on the way to work? How about a blast of REM's Get Up?

Going out for the run? Why not assemble a collection of songs to help you pound the pavement?

Old favourites not played in years were suddenly re-discovered simply by playing songs on random shuffle.

An appetite for music among the 30 to 50-year old market was re-awakened and there are reports that CD sales are being boosted in this age group.

Digital devotees speak about their players with a fervour and fans of Apple's device, dubbed Poddies, declare their love on numerous fan sites.

Zen jukebox
A new generation of players can hold 16,000 songs
The exciting thing about digital media players, however, is that the best is yet to come.

The first portable digital video players have hit the market and the increased take-up of wireless technologies could bring new uses for the players.

Imagine sharing your music on the move with other people with portable players. If you like a track you could then download it via a wireless network straight on to your device - as simple as sending a text message between mobile phones.

With uses like that in the pipeline, it is clear the revolution has only just begun.





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