AOL’s Haier Media Player

Edited 2-03-2007 and 5-19-2007.

Everyone’s talking about how “AOL is in the iPod business now.” AOL unveiled this hideous mp3-playing monstrosity at the CES show in LA like it was the cure for cancer. It got people murmuring about “how much AOL has changed” and “how innovative” they are and whether or not this shiny piece of crap will be “the next iPod killer,” inspired ooohs and ahhs from the tech community and made Steve Job’s cadre of devotees have fatal heart attacks. Time to sort out the truth from the bullshit so you can discuss the “killer player” without giving AOL credit that they don’t deserve, which might make me have a fatal heart attack. Don’t make me have a fatal heart attack…I’m only 35.

The Bullshit

“AOL invented this new media player!”

The Truth

No, they didn’t. The media player is not AOL’s invention, nor will it be sold under their name. Haier didn’t make it, either, but tragically, they did make the hardware for it. If you’re not familiar with Haier, don’t feel bad; I’m not, either. They’re an obscure Chinese appliance company that makes refrigerators, washers, driers and TVs. They don’t boast of one glamorous, must-have product worth discussing.

The Bullshit

“AOL wrote software for the new iPod-thingy!”

The Truth

AOL did not write software for it. Tegic, another tiny, obscure company (a subsidiary of AOL), whose biggest claim to fame is coding software that powers text messaging for certain hand-held mobile devices, wrote it. It’s called SmartScreens.

The Bullshit

“It’s the iPod killer!”

The Truth

No, it’s not. It’s the iPhone killer. None of the i-stuff can hold a candle to this thing, which can do almost anything except watch your six year old. I’ll give it credit for it’s exhausting list of options, if nothing else. It’s the first all-in-one BlueTooth and wi-fi enabled player that runs on open-source software, downloads streaming music and content, and handles any file type except Apple’s including WMA files, AACPlus, AACPlus Enhanced, WAV, MP3, MPEG-4, WMV 7/8/9, H.264, AVI video, and JPG and PNG images (source: swik.net).

Why it will never kill the iPod or the iPhone

The Haier mp3 player is unwieldy.

Hard Drive

At a little over one pound and roughly 4.5″ by 2.48″ by 0.46″ it must be one pain in the ass to lug around just to listen to music and make phone calls. Why not lug my hard drive around? They look the same and it will surely get me more attention than their mp3 player, especially once I trick it out with a touch screen, audio playback and BlueTooth. Haier certainly has no size advantage over any other portable player like SanDisk, Creative, or Apple.

The Haier mp3 player is ugilicious.

Young boys and men will go wild for it because it’s rugged and “manly” looking but it inspires nothing in me but disdain. Did I mention it’s awfully big? That it’s heavy? That the brushed stainless steel case shows every smudge and fingerprint so you’ll have to wipe it down every three seconds if you have even a light case of OCD like me? That it photographs poorly because it has so much shine? That it has no sex appeal, no portability, nothing that says, “Just grab me and go?”

The Haier mp3 player uses a fairly obscure OS.

It runs off of an open-source client (Linux) which is going to turn off 99% of the market because most people use Windows or Apple, and don’t even know what Linux is; end of story.

The Haier mp3 player has AOL content and “AOL software.”

Although the software belongs to AOL in only the loosest of fashions, much like Time Warner, the early press made it sound like AOL owned it and it will be hard for them to undo that image now. Plus AOL all but gave it away during and after CES that the mp3 player will feature their own content, an instant turn-off for anyone who’s tech savvy or even just smart enough not to touch AOL (their service is hard to cancel and their software gums up your computer, in case you haven’t heard).

My final thought is no one will buy it except Linux fans who like AOL and don’t mind the lack of trustworthy names behind this gimmick. As you can imagine, there will be about 3 people who fit that description. Linux users are geeks and geeks almost never use AOL, so that rules out most of the mp3 player’s target audience before it’s even out of the gate.