Monday, August 27, 2012

The end of the DAP/ MP3 player

In the early days of this blog, I rhapsodised about all the MP3 players I have ever owned, including my current one - the Cowon D2. Last week, the D2 gave me a little trouble - the sliding power button broke and I had to get it fixed. I took it to a nearby, bustling cell phone repair shop where the repair guys are unusually resourceful. They kitted it out with a slider switch from some Nokia phone and now it's back in action.

But when I realised that the player would not power up, I experienced a moment of panic. Not because I would lose the music - most of it is on the SD Card and all of it is backed up - it's because there are almost no DAPs (Digital Audio Players) left to buy in the market. I expect all of them to disappear quietly over the next 2-3 years.

As much as cellphones have killed entry level cameras, they have killed the entire category of DAPs. I see most people today listening to their music on their cell phones - and as the personal storage capacity for music through SD cards has become widespread on cellphones, it has killed FM - but that's a story for a separate post.

I have said it many times before, that if a device can perform multiple functions competently, most people would prefer it over dedicated devices which perform each function better. And phones today, even feature phones below Rs.5000 are virtual Swiss knives which do a little bit of everything. When you can get such a value for money gadget, why would you want to spend even more than the cost of a phone for a dedicated DAP, unless you belong to the brigade of audiophiles?

I am an audiophile and I will say it - apart from the iPhone I do not find audiophile quality music on any cell phone. My high end IEMs (UE Triple-Fi's) mercilessly reveal the flaws in the sound rendering by most cellphones. For me a cell phone can never replace a dedicated DAP.

And people like me represent a shrinking market, with increasingly shrinking choices. The Apple iPod Classic has not received a refresh in at least 3 years. Cowon introduced the X7 a couple of years ago and brings in models now and then but none of them seem to match up to the heights of the old players like D2 and X5. A look at the iRiver website seems to suggest that they have de-focussed from DAPs with the site highlighting ebook reader and home audio products from the company. Creative Labs, another strong player in DAP space, thankfully still features a range of DAPs on the website, but I have never seen any of these in stock either in Croma or at prominent online retailers like Flipkart. 

I hate to say it but I think the end of the DAP is imminent.