So this is what passes for Creative-ity in the music player market

If you remember from an earlier post, I pointed out that Creative’s strategy just doesn’t understand the iPod market. With over $1 billion in iPod-related accessories sold last year alone, the iPod is not just a device, it is a platform.

It seems Creative has given up trying to compete with Apple, and is suing Apple on the “Zen Patent.” This smacks of desperation to me.

One thing not noted by a lot of blogs linking this lawsuit: although the patent was only recently awarded, Creative applied for this patent before the iPod existed (they applied for the patent in January 2001, the iPod was released that October). Back then, Creative had the Nomad: a shitty player if there ever was one—I borrowed a friends at the time and decided to stick with my Rio and wait it out. It was probably the first hard-drive based MP3 player (there may have been one other).

It is fine debating prior-art and the triviality of the patent (how else are you going to navigate a hierarchical menu except sequentially?), but don’t dismiss the lawsuit out-of-hand.

By the way, when you had a 64MB player like the Rio circa 1998, you never really needed much data segmentation—it already had a two screen hierarcial segmentation of your playlists, select = playback, etc. I suspect that’s why even the Zen patent’s most expansive claim (the first claim in a patent is the most expansive, every successive claim is narrower in case the more expansive ones get dismissed) starts with three or more successive screens.

(A lot of the specific portions of the patent apply to “adding to a playlist” instead of playback. This doesn’t apply unless we are talking about the “on the go” feature of the iPod. Remember that the Nomad was a device not designed to work with an integrated player like iTunes. Instead you would copy the files (slowly via USB 1.1) to a hierarchy on your Nomad and then use the Nomad’s interface to generate playlists. Yes, it sounds obvious, tedious, and crazy, but it’s true. That’s why those claims exist, but don’t make sense when read today.)

I leave it up to you if you feel that subdivision by genre, artist, album in a portable music player is deserving a patent. Non-portable ones like WinAmp and iTunes already worked this way. Portable devices already work via hierarchical screens where selecting drops you into the subcategory. Selection on the last screen always equals playback by convention. The only thing to my knowledge not done up until this point is three or more screens in a portable music player.

3 thoughts on “So this is what passes for Creative-ity in the music player market

  1. Lawsuit ended.

    Seems like a good idea for both sides. $100 mil is absolutely nothing and Creative can troll the patent elsewhere. (Remember the impending release of the Microsoft Zune shows that Creative has larger enemies closer to home than Apple.)

    I wonder if this spells the end of the Zen? Dell just left he market, does this mean Creative will go into selling accessories?

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