Those who should not throw Zen Stones

In this week’s Switched On, I wrote about Apple’s challenge with model diversification as the company’s line expands. It offers three main famlies of iPods. That’s a lot if you consider its pro desktop line to have one model, its consumer desktop line to have two. and its notebook line as arguably straddling both with the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

This week, though, Creative unveiled its iPod shuffle-like Zen Stone, which its Web site classifies as its 11th MP3 model line in the Zen family! Even trying to reduce that to branded families, you’re left with six — Vision, Neeon, V, Micro, Nano and now Stone. Creative even has its older MuVo line up there although the Nano is very similar in terms of form factor.

The Zen Stone may be Creative’s best-looking player in a while (maybe ever)  and at a great price point — with some nice accessories, too (I like the keychain) — that brings style into the portable CD player market price bracket, but this is from the company that criticized the first-generation iPod shuffle back in 2005 as follows:

We’re expecting a good fight but they’re coming out with something that’s five generations older. It’s our first generation MuVo One product feature, without display, just have a (shuffle feature). We had that — that’s a four-year-old product. So I think the whole industry will just laugh at it, because the flash people — it’s worse than the cheapest Chinese player. Even the cheap, cheap Chinese brand today has display and has FM. They don’t have this kind of thing, and they expect to come out with a fight; I think it’s a non-starter to begin with.

Speaking of new kids on the rock, RCA — which places itself as number three in the MP3 market behind Apple and SanDisk — released most of its new Gem line yesterday. I agree with Engadget’s Paul Miller that the Jet is the best-looking of the bunch.

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