A WSJ article (“An iPod Casualty: The Rio Digital-Music Player, 9/1/05” – subscribers only) recently eulogized one of the pioneers of the flash memory mp3 players, Rio, which has just closed down, and mourned for the rest of the pack:
Rio isn’t alone in feeling the sting of Apple’s momentum. In August, Creative Technology reported lower-than-expected sales and a wider loss for the quarter ended in June, and said it was forced to write down the value of unsold inventory. About two-thirds of the Singapore-based company’s revenue comes from its line of Zen music players. Days later, Reigncom Co., the South Korean maker of iRiver players, sharply cut its sales and profit outlook for the rest of the year.
Rio introduced the first portable music player in 1998, three years before Apple introduced their iPod. But alas, Rio created just the player–not the entire constellation of player, music software (iTunes came out 10 months prior to the iPod), online music store (two years later), and legal songs. And Apple’s network has kept growing, with the addition of iPhoto, of Podcasting, and as folks like Cringely are predicting, video by Christmas. According to the WSJ, Apple has 46% of the flash memory player marke and, according to Forbes, 80% of the MP3 player market in total (not to mention 75% of the online music sales).
A century from now, as kids learn about the technological revolutions of the turn of this century, will anyone remember these products? or will they, like the first light bulbs, automobiles, penicillin, etc… get left out of the spotlight? A lot more valuable lessons for would be entrepreneurs and inventors come from these early and unsuccessful attempts than from just looking at the ones that make it. Like the importance of being in the right place at right time; like the value of elegant design (simplicity X functionality); and like the power of a network to overcome individual nodes.