Pocket-lint.co.uk sat down with Sim Wong Hoo, Foundling CEO and Chairman of Creative Labs after the launch of its new Creative Zen Vision:M Media Player.
Having wooed us with sound bites of status and market dominance, Creative is keen to show that although they don't necessarily have the kudos, style and showmanship of Steve Jobs and Apple, it has got what it takes underneath to become number one.
“We are not satisfied with the number two slot. We believe that technology not fashion will win through", said a buoyant Mr Sim.
And so he should, Creative's latest MP3 player certainly packs a punch and could just be the iPod killer that everyone had been waiting for.
On paper the specs on its new machine are impressive. Called the Zen Vision:M it will feature a 2.5 inch 262k colour screen and have the capacity for up to 120 hours of video or 15,000 songs on its 30Gb internal hard drive.
Compare this to the Apple's iPod or as Mr Sim affectionally called it “that other competitor” and the already the iPod looks to be on the losing side. Only a 64K colour screen and only capable of holding 7,500 songs. The list goes on.
“Think of this as the ‘SLR' of the PMP players” Mr Sim was quick to add as it demonstrated the features of the player. But unlike Apple, the company will not be launching a 60Gb version, yet.
“Of course we are looking at it”, adds Mr Sim when we asked him. “We just can't release everything at once”.
Because of that inability to please everyone and feature everything, understandably, sacrifices have had to be made. The new player is slightly thicker than the Apple iPod (104 x 62 x 18.6 mm compared to 10.4 x 6.1 x 1.1) and heavier (163g compared to 136g).
“We thought more features was better than a thin design so we've included a microphone, FM radio, better battery life for watching videos, higher resolution output to television and a zoom feature for images”.
That higher video resolution output means 640 x 480 rather than Apple's 320 x 240 while you can view any image up to 8 megapixels. A noticeable difference to Apple's alternative, but why not any higher?
“We would love to have made the video output resolution 800 x 600 but to do that you need more power, bigger processors and more memory. Additionally this means slower transfers, bigger files and more to download from the web. For the launch we wanted to keep it simple. But these is something we are already working on alongside adding X-fi surround sound to the device for next year”.
When it comes to content though Apple still looks to win.
“We are not a content provider and don't really want to be”, said Mr Sim. “It's not our cup of tea. I tried it a couple of years ago, by investing in a couple of companies but it didn't work out. This way we can offer the hardware and let the consumer decide between the 230 different music sites for legal downloads”.
It's certainly one that has its appeal and in the UK. Napster, the BBC and 7 Digital are all gearing up to offer content either now or in the new year.
When we mentioned patents, Sim Wong Hoo couldn't stop the beaming smile spread across his face. The petit man who started the company with a loan of $6000 is still very proud of the empire he has built.
In the clearest indication yet Mr Sim confirmed that the company would be acting on the US patent office's decision to award it with the patent for the user interface.
“Creative might be number two in the MP3 player market, but we are number one in the user interface market”, said Mr Sim. “I am okay with how many players they [Apple] sell because I will make money in the end”.
When asked whether he would act on the US patent, Mr Sim responsed with a smile with the words “Of course”.
The ‘aggressive' move by Mr Sim could send a shockwave of fear to Apple Computers CEO Steve Jobs and its executives, if Creative forces the company to pay a levy for every iPod sold with the interface. In the last financial year, Apple sold 22.3 million iPod's globally.
Creative applied for the Zen Patent on January 5, 2001 and it was awarded on August 9, 2005 but until now has now has not acknowledged that it would act on the ruling.
In August Craig McHugh, president of Creative Labs, the firm's US unit, told reporters on a conference call said "We're pleased about the patent and the protection it provides us. We're evaluating all the alternatives".
Creative was one of the first to market digital music players in 2000, but has since been overshadowed by Apple and its marketing machine with its popular fashion focused players.
So what of the future? Mr Sim is keen to roll out the X-fi audio chip across the range of its products, from MP3 players to speakers.
It was at this point Mr Sim pulled out a surprise. An MP3 player and portable speaker set fitted with the new technology. First we were asked to listen to a group of voices coming from the two speakers in front of us. The audio file was of 5 people saying “front left”, “front right”, “rear right”, “rear left” and “centre”. The audio was confusing as they all crashed into each other vying for space on the speakers. A quick flick of a switch and suddenly we were surrounded by sound. It was an eriee experience an in a moment of awe we found ourselves turning around to see where the noise was coming from.
Should we expect big things from Creative? As the Microsoft logo, the company is keen to brandish says - it certainly "Plays for Sure".