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Iomega hops onto MP3 bandwagon – again

Tries to win support for Clik! this time -- but Flash still too popular

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Having tried and largely failed to leap onto the digital music bandwagon earlier this year with its Zip drive, troubled storage specialist Iomega is now having another bash at it, this time with its compact 40MB Clik! Technology. This time round, Iomega's plan makes more sense, but arguably it's no more likely to win widespread support with consumer electronics companies than the company's scheme to get set-top box and PC vendors to choose Zip as the preferred storage medium for digital music files. The trouble with the Zip approach wasn't Zip's 100MB capacity but its general clunkiness -- consumers like things to be sleek and sexy, neither of which you can honestly say about Zip. Clik!, on the other hand, scores quite nicely here and, more to the point, is sufficiently compact (and low power) to be fitted into portable MP3 players, which are where the action is right now in the digital music market. Iomega is supporting Microsoft's Windows Media Device Manager, which is a Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) compliant tool to transfer legitimate music files between a PC, a portable player and external storage systems, so it will be ready to take advantage of SDMI devices when they appear sometime next year -- if they appear at all (see SDMI can't kill MP3 admits industry). In the meantime, Iomega's attempt to sell more disks and drives and thus return to profitability is focusing on the broadly non-SDMI MP3 market, pushing Clik! as a kind of digital cassette. It's not yet clear whether the three companies who've agreed to say they might use the technology -- Addonics, Varo Vision and Sensory Science; yes, we haven't heard of them either -- view Clik! as simply a storage medium or whether their devices will play tracks straight off the disk. Clik! is ideally suited to this kind of role, and you can see it taking its place alongside tape and MiniDisc as a format for listeners to rip their CDs to when they're out and about. That's clearly where Iomega's thinking lies, but it has some way to go here. First, the major consumer electronics vendors and the digital music pioneers, such as Diamond, Samsung and Creative Labs, are all pursuing solid-state storage technologies, and one, Sony, is pushing its own system, Memory Stick, as a putative global standard. Speaking of Sony, its MiniDisc format is rapidly becoming the format of choice for the Walkman generation, and for all the bullish predictions about the MP3 market, is likely to considerably outsell solid state machines over the next year or so. Sony already has the support of EMI, and is about to announce that both Warners and Polygram (now everyone has forgotten about parent company Philips' Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) format) are to issue music on MiniDisc. After years of campaigning, MiniDisc is beginning to pay off as listeners replace portable cassette players with digital MiniDisc units. Like it or not, this is going to be a much bigger market than the MP3 business for some time, since you don't need an Internet connection to use it. That leaves Clik! in a difficult competitive position, and it will be interesting to see if Iomega can not only sign more supporters for the technology but get some of the big CE names on board too. Clik! is certainly a worthwhile technology in this space, but that's no guarantee of success. As it stands, we suspect Iomega has another DCC on its hands. ®

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