October 15, 2008

Much of the focus of slotMusic, SanDisk’s attempt to rekindle physical media sales by packaging high-quality MP3 albums along with other digital assets on a 1 GB microSD card, was on cell phones. After all, the number of microSD-enabled cell phones is probably already larger than the MP3 player market, and if it isn’t, it’s only a matter of time before it will be. In fact, when I first spoke with SanDisk about slotMusic, the company explained that it decided to go with rewriteable memory precisely because it wanted some digital storage available for the cell phone to use while a slotMusic album was inserted.

Among the top three portable music player companies, Sandisk is the only one to support removable media and so slotMusic could have been a good fit for lower-end players like the USB connector-equipped Sansa Express. But the company has pulled a little something out of its hat for the slotMusic launch — a new low-end Sansa slotMusic player designed for use specifically with slotMusic. It has no internal flash memory, no USB connector, and no display. In some ways, it’s a throwback to earlier devices such as some of  the RCA Lyra RD series players, which exclusively used Compact Flash cards for storage. Alone, it’s priced a hair above the cost of a new CD at just under $20. I’s also available in themed bundles featuring artists such as ABBA and Robin Thicke for $35.

Speaking of RCA, the brand enjoyed some success a few years back with its Rip n’ Go shelf systems that were able to load up a companion MP3 player by directly ripping CDs to it. Sandisk also promotes the slotMusic player as being a PC-free and Internet-free way to enjoy digital music, a growing advantage as MP3 players saturate the PC-proficient user base,  but also notes that the player will work with its own microSD cards, which stretch to 16 GB. And how would you load those up without a PC? Also, assuming slotMusic focuses on pop music (which it must to reach high volumes), isn’t that target market already PC-literate?

Regardless, it’s fine for Sandisk to support the slotMusic initiative with its own Sansa players, but the company is going to have to keep focused on the cell phone market if slotMusic is to have a chance of success in the market..

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