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Thread: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

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    The User DemonDragonJ's Avatar
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    Default Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    It seems to me that Creative Labs has stopped producing .mp3 players, since their products are now very difficult to find, even at such vendors as Amazon.com, and they are even listed as "archived products" on Creative's own website.

    I am very displeased by this, since I was planning to purchase another Creative Zen after my last player broke, but now, it seems that I shall not be able to do that.

    Why did Creative stop making .mp3 players? The two that I owned were remarkable devices, and it would make sense to produce such devices to use with the external speakers that they are still producing.

    What does everyone else say about this? Why has Creative Labs stopped producing .mp3 players, and will they ever revive that product line?
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    Default Re: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    I think the better question to ask is: "How has the market for dedicated audio players changed over the last decade?"

    Creative launched the Nomad Jukebox MP3 player in 2000. Eventually, this led to the ZEN product line, which they launched in 2002. Over the subsequent 12 years, Creative continued to develop products in this space. I can't find a launch date for their current offerings, but the earliest snapshot that the Internet Archive has for the ZEN X-FI3 product page is 2014-10-28.

    Now, what else happened during that 12 year period?

    Smartphones.

    With the onset, and subsequent explosion, of smartphones, we found ourselves on a fast track towards convergence. Why have a phone, mp3 player, camera, etc, if you could have a single device that does all of those things well enough for your needs? I remember the first time I realized this personally; it was with my Nokia N900. The time was December 2009, and I discovered that this single device would let me keep in touch with all of my contacts through every means of contact (phone, sms, IM, VoIP, etc) across all platforms I might be using (phone, sms, AIM, gChat, Skype, etc), all through a single interface. In addition to that, it could take pictures good enough for my needs, play video and audio files, browse the internet, receive (and broadcast!) radio, and basically do everything I could ask for in a mobile device. Granted, all of this was fairly primitive compared to today's offerings, but at the time is seemed like magic.

    Jump ahead 6.5 years, and we are truly almost there with converged devices. The last time I used a dedicated camera was only because I wanted to make sure that there was no geo-tagging metadata on the picture, and I don't even remember the last time I used a dedicated audio device.

    Yes, there are still niche markets for dedicated devices for many functions provided by modern smartphones, but they are shrinking every year as the offerings in converged devices improve. The digital camera market (short of dSLRs) primarily only exists any more because of the difficulty of putting good lenses in phones. The digital audio player market is even more niche. Think of the use cases where someone would a) want to play digital audio, and b) specifically not want to use a smartphone of some kind to do that. At this stage in the game decent, modern, unlocked, smartphones can often be had for less than the cost of a modern digital music player. This has led to high levels of specialization in the market (case in point: the ZEN X-FI3's primary selling point on its product page is that it plays FLAC), which further shrinks the niche. Apple still sells three digital audio players (iPod touch, nano, and shuffle), but the only link I can find for them on the Apple site is in the site map at the bottom of the page. They are completely absent from the primary navigation bar.

    To answer the question I posed at the start, the market for dedicated audio players has all but disappeared outside of small niche markets.

    To answer your question, Creative has probably stopped making MP3 players because the market has shrunk to such a degree that there is just not enough money to be made in continuing to make these niche devices to make any business sense. Keep in mind that their primary competitor in this space is (and, if we're honest, has been for the last decade) Apple: the single most profitable company in the world right now. In 2014, Creative Labs had total revenue of $116M and a net loss of $21.8M. In contrast, Apple had total revenue of $182B and a net profit of $39.5B. Creative has made a lot of great products over the years, and I have loved many of them. However, if you are looking at a product for which the market (already small) is shrinking every year at an ever increasing rate, and your primary competitor could literally buy your entire company 50x over each month with their net profit...let's just say that sometimes you need to know when to throw in the towel.

    Now, as for whether they will ever revive the product line...personally, I doubt it. They would need to have a very strong advantage unique to their product to pull in customers with more than just brand loyalty, and frankly, I don't think that there is anything they could do to get that. I see them continuing to focus on their accessory and head/earphone products, as these have much larger and more stable markets.
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    The User DemonDragonJ's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    Your response makes me feel very depressed and also angry, X88X, because I do not want a multi-function device; I want a device that performs only a single task, and is very good at performing that task. I still use an ordinary cell phone, one that specifically meant for communicating, and hope to never own a smartphone for as long as I am alive (and I hope to live for at least another fifty years), and I still use a digital camera that is specifically dedicated to taking photographs. The fact that multi-function devices are now so popular is clear evidence, in my mind, that people are becoming addicted to technology and possibly even too reliant on it.

    I also am very displeased that Creative Labs no longer considers the digital media player market to be a profitable one, because, if they were to continue to make players, I would purchase them, and I am certain that there are other people with such a mindset, as well. It is not fair to people such as myself, who wish to have separate devices for each function; we should not have to suffer because the majority of people are so addicted to the convenience of multi-function devices.

    Finally, what is so good about Apple? How are they making such a huge profit? I fail to see why so many people are fond of them; in my mind, they are a tyrannical force that crushes all competition and dominates the market, giving consumers little choice but to purchase their products. I am of the opinion that other companies need to oppose them as much as possible, to prevent them from establishing a monopoly on the electronics market, rather than meekly surrendering to them. They are the Borg, the Matrix, the Galactic Empire, and, without any competition, they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

    This may not be the best place to ask such a question, but do you have any recommendations for a new .mp3 player, one that is specifically dedicated to that task? I have searched many websites, but have found that it is very difficult to find such devices.
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    Default Re: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    Quote Originally Posted by DemonDragonJ View Post
    Your response makes me feel very depressed and also angry, X88X, because I do not want a multi-function device; I want a device that performs only a single task, and is very good at performing that task. I still use an ordinary cell phone, one that specifically meant for communicating, and hope to never own a smartphone for as long as I am alive (and I hope to live for at least another fifty years), and I still use a digital camera that is specifically dedicated to taking photographs.
    And that's fine that you don't want one (I wouldn't bother getting angry about it, myself, but that's me; stress is a nasty thing), but recognize that you are in the minority in that regard. I'm not saying "you are the minority so shut up and do what everyone else does"; I'm saying "you are in the minority so do not expect every manufacturer to cater to meet your wants"...that's kinda what being in a market minority means. On the positive side of that, manufacturers often rise up to meet these niche demands, and if that happens you can often end up with a much more finely tuned product for your niche than if you simply tried to use what everyone else uses. A recent example case for this is NCASE; no manufacturer was making a SFF case that met the needs of a small group of people, so they decided to stop complaining and do something about it. They ended up designing a custom case, getting an existing manufacturer (Lian-Li) to produce it, sold a small (10k, iirc) initial batch through crowdfunding, and they now sell a fairly regular stream of them. Not a large stream, mind you...it is a pretty niche product...but enough to make it profitable to keep making and selling it. On an even smaller front, tindie is a marketplace specifically designed for meeting tiny niche demands by bringing together people making very small run products, and people who want those products.

    Quote Originally Posted by DemonDragonJ View Post
    I also am very displeased that Creative labs no longer considers the digital media player market to be a profitable one, because, if they were to continue to make players, I would purchase them, and I am certain that there are other people with such a mindset, as well. It is not fair to people such as myself, who wish to have separate devices for each function; we should not have to suffer because the majority of people are so addicted to the convenience of multi-function devices.
    To be clear, it is my speculation that they no longer consider it to be profitable, based on my reading of the market and the fact that they appear to have stopped development in that vein; I have not seen any statements/etc from Creative Labs that specifically states that they no longer consider them profitable. As for "it's not fair", well, that's how capitalism works. There will always be a minority whose needs are not met by products built for the majority. In that situation, either hope you can find a niche product that meets your needs, or you make one yourself. These companies don't owe you anything; they owe their investors to make the company as profitable as possible. Sometimes this means cutting niche products to focus funds on more profitable ones (especially if your company posted a 10 figure loss last year).

    Quote Originally Posted by DemonDragonJ View Post
    Finally, what is so good about Apple? How are they making such a huge profit? I fail to see why so many people are fond of them
    They are profitable because they make popular products that they sell at a large profit margin, and they put less capital into expanding their business than some other large companies. Simple as that. As for them "taking over the electronics industry", I think you're blowing them out of proportion. Looking at the global smartphone market share (2015q2), iOS constitutes 13.9% of the global market. While large for a single manufacturer, that is far from dominating the market. They are vastly outweighed by the myriad Android manufacturers.

    Quote Originally Posted by DemonDragonJ View Post
    This may not be the best place to ask such a question, but do you have any recommendations for a new .mp3 player, one that is specifically dedicated to that task? I have searched many websites, but have found that it is very difficult to find such devices.
    With the disclaimer that I'm really not the target audience, so I can't really speak from experience, but:
    When looking for niche products like this, I find that it helps to identify things that appeal to the hard core of that niche and start from there. In this case, a search for "FLAC mp3 player" brought me to head-fi.org, which appears to be a site for audiophiles. On there, they have an index of current dedicated audio players with reviews and ratings:
    http://www.head-fi.org/products/cate...ac-mp3-players
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    Default Re: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    That's a pretty comprehensive summary x88x. I used to be the guy that had great niche devices for music (Olympus M-robe anybody? No, didn't expect anyone NOT to have to search that) but now I use an unlocked Nokia Lumia 520 as a portable music player. I've still got one of the last iPod Classic models (160GB) that lives in my car's glovebox full time, but that's really only because my head deck will control it via the 30-pin connection. Which brings me to my point about why Apple can still afford to produce iPods: simply, the accessories market has adopted their connectors as the defacto standard. I can plug in any mp3 player via 3.5mm Aux into my headunit, but I can only control an iPod. This functionality, combined with the use of the same connector on their very popular phones (13% share is still a lot of devices), means there is still a market for them. They may refresh the existing models but I wouldn't count on them introducing any significantly new iPods going forward.

    The problem with niche devices is that they often are costly to buy and maintain, and support is rarely a long term guarantee. I've been watching the Pono Player with interest but will likely never spend $399 on a dedicated music player. In my mind, the chances of it failing to be a viable business long enough to warrant spending that kind of money, are very high.
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    Default Re: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    As long as we are discussing Creative Labs, I have another question:

    Creative's newest sound card, the Sound Blaster Z series, has been out for several years, now, and it seems to be doing very well, currently, but when shall they release another new model? Will there remain a market for dedicated sound cards? I really hope so, since I believe that it is not fair that video cards get so much more attention than sound cards, and I appreciate the benefit of a dedicated sound card for listening to music, watching movies, and occasionally playing video games on my computer.
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    Default Re: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    Haha, another niche market, eh? Creative Labs does seem to thrive on those.

    I can't really speak to the larger market, other than to say that dedicated sound cards have always been a niche market. I think this is mainly down to two factors. The first is that, especially now, it is much more uncommon for a random individual to have good speakers/headphone/etc than to have a decent monitor. The second, and more direct cause, I think, is simply that fewer people can tell the difference. This is true of high end video as well, but there is another factor at play with high end audio.

    In my analysis, I think that the reason why dedicated audio cards releases are much fewer and further is simply because the technology is changing much more slowly. I do not claim to be an expert on digital audio, but from what I have seen of the device available over the years, the technology is just not changing that much year to year. There are improvements, yes, but nowhere near at the rate of improvements in the video space.

    I think this is partially due to the fundamental nature of the problem space. The ability of audio equipment to replicate full-spectrum natural sound is proportionally much greater than the ability of equivalent (in market placement) video equipment. That is to say, we have always been able to make much better audio than we can video (audio does have about a 50 year head start on video, after all). Because of this, as with most technologies, there is an asymptotic falloff in the rate of technological development the closer we get to the optimum.

    So what am I trying to say with all that? Just that I'm not surprised that dedicated audio cards are launched much less frequently than dedicated video cards, and also that I wouldn't worry about that portending anything about the market.

    As for the future market for dedicated sound cards, I think that will stick around, yes, though the nature of it will likely change over time. Already, I see that their most recent additions to the Sound Blaster line are in external, USB-driven devices. I think this is great, because it opens up the premium audio space to more than just desktop users comfortable adding cards to their computers (or who might not have space in their desktops for another card...). I have also seen a recent resurgence in small companies making premium USB audio devices and mobile DACs. With the advent of USB 3.0, the capability of the media went through ground shift, the effects of which we are still seeing today. Things that were unthinkable (or just terrible) on USB 2.0 are easy on 3.0. Case in point: at work I drive three of my five monitors with USB 3.0 video adapters, and for everything up to and including HD video, they work flawlessly and at high frame rates. This is why I am thrilled to see premium audio moving to USB: because with USB 3.0 it is no longer hampered by the medium, and we can actually have premium audio over USB.

    Ultimately where I would like to see audio go is completely independent speakers, each containing a dedicated DAC, all connected over a high bandwidth wireless network, and balancing each other dynamically. Things like Sonos are a big step in the right direction, but that space is still very young and I think there is a lot of space left for improvement and innovation (side note: if anyone is familiar with digital audio stream processing and would be interesting in doing something like this, PM me; I've been tossing around ideas for this for a while now but keep running into the "I really don't know what I'm doing" problem when I get to the audio).
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    Default Re: Why has Creative Labs Stopped Making .Mp3 players?

    I'll jump in on this.

    I have a 64Gb Zune HD. I still use it, although much less than I used to. It's an amazing one purpose device and I'm bummed that MS quit making them.

    But smartphones took over, and generally do 100x more things at ~90% of the quality. Most people just don't care enough to have lots of devices (at $100+ each) for that small upgrade in quality.

    Creative is dead to me as far as sound cards are concerned. A few years ago they released driver updates that essentially made their existing cards crappier in order to upsell people to their newer cards. That's a bad move for any company, so I'm not buying from them ever again. I'd go with the ASUS Xonar series.

    But the same things applies to sound cards. They'll give a very small performance upgrade (in terms of framerates) for a lot of money. The sound quality upgrade is great, but only if you have the right equipment to listen to it with. Also, sound cards used to be a necessity before on board sound. Then we got on board sound, but it wasn't that great (remember when your computer speaker was mono, and located in the front of the tower itself?). But now, on board sound is pretty good. For most people, it's all they'll need. I use USB headphones and don't even have speakers hooked up to my computer anymore. So I don't see the sound card market growing anytime soon.

    Edit: Here's a link to a thread here talking about Creative crippling their own products: http://www.thebestcasescenario.com/f...=creative+labs

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