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Samsung Steals the Brain Behind the iPod 334

An anonymous reader writes "The New York Times reports that Samsung has hired the same programming genius who helped make the iPod so great to design its own music player. They imply that the new Samsung device is just as innovative." From the article: "Samsung's choice of Mr. Mercer also shows how much consumer electronics now rely on the powerful computing capabilities that defined personal computers two decades ago. Samsung is betting that it can win a share of the music market dominated by Apple by using new software that mimics what is found in powerful PC's. The Z5, shaped like a stick of gum, has a 1.8-inch color screen and a 35-hour battery life, and is priced at $199 to $249 to compete with the iPod Nano, which costs $149 to $249. Early reviews have been positive, and Samsung is hoping that the Z5 will work smoothly with the range of subscription music services that support the Microsoft PlaysForSure digital music standard."
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Samsung Steals the Brain Behind the iPod

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  • by mswope ( 242988 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @07:59AM (#14807342) Journal
    Z1 - Z4?
  • standard? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:00AM (#14807347)
    Microsoft PlaysForSure digital music standard

    That word does not mean what you think it means.
    • Samsung is [b]hoping[/b] that the Z5 will work smoothly with the range of subscription music services that support the Microsoft PlaysForSure digital music standard. Heh, yeah. Shouldn't they KnowForSure(TM) if it'll work smoothly?
    • Microsoft PlaysForSure digital music standard

      That word does not mean what you think it means

      Sure it does. It means the same thing as "FairPlay" or "Patriot Act." I'm sure they'll stop using 'em when we stop falling for 'em.

    • Hopefully it won't be a 100% propriatary locked-out standard like iTMS.
    • A recreation of my thought process while reading the header:

      Neat! A new mp3 player!

      Cool! They're putting design effort into it!

      Hey! Small and good battery life!

      Microsoft? (cue skidding sound in background)

      Next article.

    • Re:standard? (Score:3, Informative)

      by samael ( 12612 )
      It means:
      "An acknowledged measure of comparison for quantitative or qualitative value"

      Which is exactly what PlaysForsure is - a set of criteria that a digital music player has to fulfil in order to get the stamp of approval.

      I do wish people would learn to speak English before they criticised others.
  • by putko ( 753330 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:03AM (#14807355) Homepage Journal
    So does Steve Jobs throw a chair now, and yell, "Anybody but Samsung!!"

    I bet not.

    He probably meditates on it, then eats a miso sandwich.
    • He's probably doing what's he's always been doing: Laughing all the way to the bank.

      Samsung's hiring of the same designer is nothing more than marketing hype. What Samsung hopes the public fails to realize, is that Steve Jobs is the guy who made the iPod what it is. PortalPlayer (the design company) actually delivered many iterations of the iPod that was much different from the final product. Each time, Jobs sent the device back with a laundry list of things wrong with it. Stuff that seemed completely out of place (e.g. extra bass boost because Jobs was slightly deaf) went into the design. PortalPlayer thought it was going to flop horribly after all the demands that Jobs had made. It was quite a shock to them when the iPod grabbed the market overnight.

      So I would take this story with a grain of salt. If Samsung doesn't realize that they've got a cat in the bag, they will soon enough.

      [Reference Article] [wired.com]
      • Stuff that seemed completely out of place (e.g. extra bass boost because Jobs was slightly deaf) went into the design

        I doubt Jobs' specific hearing problems had anything to do with that decision.

        Take a look at any consumer audio product built in the last 20 years; chances are it has some sort of "Super Mega Bass Boost" function available on it (low-end shelftop units in particular embrace this feature).

        People tend to think that audio with overemphasized low frequencies sounds fuller and louder, and therefor
    • Miso is used to make sauces, not sandwiches. It's a salty ingredient made through fermentation. Get your asian foods straight before you keep making yourself look like an ass.
  • neatish kinda (Score:4, Interesting)

    by akhomerun ( 893103 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:04AM (#14807357)
    this is probably going to a great MP3 player.

    but since it's not Apple, it's not going to really sell well at all. Plays For Sure doesn't really get you anywhere, either. The device will only sell well if it truly is a good device and is marketed.

    If I remember right, Samsung really wanted to make it big in the MP3 market. They had some statement a while ago saying they wanted to eventually be in Apple's position. This kind of stuff makes me think they truly are serious, but what they don't understand is that you can't just follow if you want to control a market, you absolutely have to lead.
    • MS Vista's out this year. Who knows how much "push" the PFS/portable media etc thing is going to get given by the OS and MS marketing? MP3 players are like browsers: people have their favourites, but they're "disposable" and it wouldn't surprise me if the MS one ends up a defacto standard just because they have a large userbase and can push for it by making it integrate better with their OS...Perhaps a PFS-compatible media player will "just work" much like iTunes and the iPod did...if it does, a lot of pe
    • you can't just follow if you want to control a market, you absolutely have to lead.

      M$ has been copying stuff since day one. Innovation is good but aggression is better. If you have tons of cash, aggresive mkting, and a sharp legal staff you can kick ass. You just won't be admired for being innovative.
    • Re:neatish kinda (Score:4, Informative)

      by ciroknight ( 601098 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @09:40AM (#14807687)
      It's also worthwhile to note how this thing stacks up to its "competitor", the iPod nano.

      Samsung's Z5: 1.66" x .45" x 3.54, 1.8" LCD, 35 Hr Battery Life
      iPod Nano: 1.6" x 0.27" x 3.5, 1.5" LCD, ~14 Hr Battery Life

      Take two Nanos, stack one on top of another and you get a realization of how thick this thing is. But, with that extra thickness you pick up twice as much battery life (that should be a no brainer, seeing as doubling the size would double the available room to stash a battery). The screen is larger, but only marginally, and from the pictures it's at a strange aspect ratio (like that of a Cellphone) compared to the Nano's more naturally shaped screen (4x3?). Also worthy to note that the interface is going to be strikingly different, and that the Nano has Apple's FairPlay DRM vs. Microsoft's WMP10-DRM and some other DRM system called "Janus" (according to its product spec sheet). The Samsung unit will only ship with DRM compatibility for Windows (Media Player 10, sorry Mac users), and the unit comes in Black and Silver.

      My opinion? It looks like a cellphone and an MP3 player got in a fight and the cellphone lost in a serious way. It's not particularly attractive looking with it's goofy offsized display, and the interface is questionable to say the least (the touchpad's square shape alone leaves one to question). It'll be interesting to see what impact, if any, it will have on the market.
    • this is probably going to a great MP3 player.

      I'm not so sure. From what I've read over the years, Jobs himself was a big driving force behind the design of the iPod -- pushing for smaller size, a cleaner interface, meeting with designers weekly if not daily to provide his own input on the device.

      He didn't do the grunt work on it, but I don't think there's much question that the iPod is Jobs' creation at least as much as anyone else's.
  • "We have this great new device that will kill the iPod! Just take our word for it! iPod=dead, yeah, our device is awesome!"
    They haven't shown that they can do anything the iPod can't do, so why would consumers switch?
    • I'll bet they're relying on the next wave of buyers. It's the same strategy the cell phone vendors rely on. Ever notice how cell phones are pretty much designed to mave at least one thing go wrong with them in 2 or 3 years? I think Motorola figured out that those monster grey flip phones, while built like tanks, didn't give them a recurring revenue stream. So they made them good enough to not break within a product's release cycle, and that's it.

      Same with the iPod. Unless you sit on the couch listening to y
  • ogg vorbis (Score:5, Informative)

    by Florian ( 2471 ) <cantsin@zedat.fu-berlin.de> on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:05AM (#14807361) Homepage
    It should be of more relevance to Slashdot readers that the player supports Ogg Vorbis according to its spec sheet [samsung.com].


    • Re:ogg vorbis (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But unfortunately it uses MTP [wikipedia.org] as a comunication protocol, so Linux and Mac users are out of luck.

      Is it really so hard for companies to make their players mass storage compatible for use in other operating systems or as a last resort?
  • It will demonstrate which of the following theories is closer to the truth, without being enough to be conclusive. Either:

    A) Steve Jobs is a creative genius who controls every bit of design and implementation of his great ideas, allowing the people working on his teams to come up with successfull products.


    B) Steve Jobs comes up/recognizes good initial ideas, then micro-manages his team too much, coming up with great products that might be even better if he let his senior team members have slight
  • but throw in a Korean woman and I will change my music player in a heartbeat!
    • but throw in a Korean woman and I will change my music player in a heartbeat!

      In Korea a lot of their women are really men.... you've been warned...
  • Steal ?!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr Europe ( 657225 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:10AM (#14807376)
    Why to use word "steal" when somebody is fed up with company "A" and moves to company "S" ? He was owned by Apple was he ?
    • He was owned by Apple was he ?

      Silly rabbit. With modern capitalism you don't own someone. You just own their thoughts after they leave!
    • Re:Steal ?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ebooher ( 187230 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:49AM (#14807499) Homepage Journal

      We, as average /. reading Joes, do not know the whole story. You can not say that he was fed up with working for Apple, because his voice isn't in the article. In this instance we are supposed to read "Steal" as Apple paying $100,000 to do a job and Samsung coming along and saying "Hey, we know you're happy over there, but see we have these buckets full of cash that are going to waste and all and ...." then offering $900,000 to do the same job.

      However, *neither* viewpoint is accurate as referenced in the article as it states that Paul Mercer was *not* working for Apple when he developed the software that ran the iPod. He owned and operated his *own* company called Pixo that was contracted to provide the software for the iPod. He did, however, work for Apple back in the System 7 days as a Programmer

      He also is not working for Samsung. His new company, Iventor, Inc., has been contracted by Samsung to provide the software for their new Z5. It's a very small thing, grammatically, but an important one.

    • Right, in the XXI century people doesn't change their jobs because of their salary, because they don't like the company where they're working, they're "stolen".
    • It's not even clear to me that he is working for Samsung. It sounds to me like Mercer works for a small-device firmware company that he left Apple to start/join, and they happen to have contracted to Samsung to make a firmware for the Z5.
      But of course, it's a much better sounding headline if you put words like "steals" in it.
  • No video. Less easy to use transfer software. Lame.
    • Well, I don't know about video, but according to Cnet [cnet.co.uk]:

      The sucker punch here may be the transfer software -- there is none. Samsung has wisely avoided the self-destructive policy of companies like Sony, which uses a proprietary transfer software hot from the depths of hell. Samsung's new player is drag-and-drop, which means it works just like an external hard disk -- making the YP-Z5 completely platform independent.

      Now I don't know about you, but to me this sounds like a Very Good Thing (tm), esp. for thos

      • Veyr good - if you're a geek.

        If, on the other hand, you're Joe Q. Public, then it will seem like a nightmare to use compared to an iPod.

        The reason the iPod is so wildly successful is because it doesn't just cater to geeks. Until Samsung realises that, they'll never kill it.
  • WTF! OMG! Samsung has stolen a brain!

    Did they just put it in a jar? Or did they slice it up and fed it to their employees? Eww...

    Cannibalism for market share is really bad, you think that in current time, there are more civilized means to gain market share. Bribery, illegal bundling and abuse of monopolies, unfair competition. You know, those kind of things...
  • by bbzzdd ( 769894 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:20AM (#14807391)

    ...it's not an iPod. It's like at Christmas getting a cheap Korean knockoff of the year's hot item. To beat the iPod you have to leapfrog it not clone it.

  • Two elements of the iPod's hardware made it great: the scrollwheel and the firewire connection (pre USB 2). The software is good, but nothing extraordinary.
  • Nice battery life .. other than that I see no reason to choose it over an iPod . In fact several disadvantages.
    Now Ogg support is nice (something which apple could easily do ,hopefully this will spur them on) , but it just doesn't have the ipod interface or iTunes.
    It looks fairly clone-ish though a bit rougher in design.
    I can't comment on sound quality , and the battery life claims are known to be exaggerated in the industry.
    All in all it looks like just another iPod Killer , like all those that have gone b
  • Kleenex... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by canning ( 228134 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:30AM (#14807423) Homepage
    The iPod is the "Kleenex" of the mp3 world. Samsung is going to have to hire more than just the programmer.

    Let be honest, it's mainly not what's in the iPod that makes it sell, it's how it looks.
    • Let be honest, it's mainly not what's in the iPod that makes it sell, it's how it looks.

      I'd argue that it's more the surity of the product.

      With an iPod, you know exactly what your getting, and are, more or less assurred of the end product. With most other mp3 players, somethign has been reduced, fudged, removed, etc, etc, and you're not too sure if you should get it or not.

      I have to say were it not for the lower hard disc space on this Z5 player, I would go for it.
    • Let be honest, it's mainly not what's in the iPod that makes it sell, it's how it looks.

      Lets be really honest, it not what's in the ipod or how it looks - it was the first mp3 player to be heavily marketed.

      God - if looks was all it took, then Sony's new mp3 player would be dominating (it is gorgeous, buggy, slow & overpriced with sod-all storage)
      • bingo. it have become the device to have if you want to appear as if your part of the "in" crowd.

        hell, just look at the number of snowboarders sporting ipods the the winter olympics...
  • Taint? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cortana ( 588495 ) <`ku.gro.stobor' `ta' `mas'> on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:33AM (#14807434) Homepage
    Will he not be tainted by having had access to (and, in fact, creating) so much of Apple's intellectual 'property'?
  • by Nexum ( 516661 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:33AM (#14807435)
    It's not about the device it's about iTunes as much as anything else. The device is just one part of the equation - this is why this product and the countless ones before it (see Sony discontinuing the 'bean', Dell discontinuing hard-drive based players etc.) will fail.

    I don't understand it sometimes... companies like Samsung have incredible resources, and could easily start to build an iTunes software competitor, which also works with PlaysForSure, rather than relying on WMP. It's just symptomatic of a 'me-too' technology industry culture that attempts to eat like a cancer at the few innovators left.

    It's not just about the iPod. iPod has powerful friends in iTunes and iTMS. You might stand a chance if you can get two competent and competitive products out of the three in the music-chain (Device-Software-OnlineStore), but concentrating on the iPod is like shooting blanks... that's not how to attack the problem.

    Dodgy Analogy: It's like in any number of old-time video games where you come up against a boss enemy, and you can expend all your ammo shooting him in the chest (iPod), but you have to go for the weakspot (eyes, exposed brain a la HL etc.) which is the rest of the chain.
    • The iPod was slightly successful before iTMS. And from what I gather from my non-technical friends, iTunes isn't all that friendly to non-techies. Especially if you try installing it on older PCs.

      I'm not entirely sure why the iPod is so successful. I think it was largely a matter of luck to begin with, which has then been capitalised on wisely by Apple. Certainly I can think of many ways I'd prefer an iPod to operate - many of them are taken care of by iRiver, but it's a much geekier and less attractive bit
      • The iPod was slightly successful before iTMS.

        I think it was one of only a few MP3 players that used a hard drive on the market at the time when it first came out. I think the only other well-known one at the time was the Creative Nomad Jukebox.

    • this "iTunes" I keep reading about? Is it some sort of amaroK [kde.org]-like digital audio player, that can play virtually every digital audio format, shuffle my music collection in a variety of ways, show me the album covers, lyrics and info about the band, beyond playing podcasts?
      • If I understand it well, the killer feature of the iTunes is that it manages the musics that will go into the iPod. So, the users don't have to think about what musics they'll carry.

        That means that the iPod is better because of the iTunes, not that the iTunes excels in any way. So, for the people that doesn't have an iPod, it doesn't make any difference.

        Well, that is my case, and I'll surely try amaroK if I can find it at Debian.

    • I'd conjecture that a device that's produced in league with MS and PFS is probably going to have a pretty tight integration into Vista. This might be like Netscape vs Internet Explorer all over again...
  • Expect a torrent of lawsuits if they make anything that even vaguely resembles an apple product.
  • by dimer0 ( 461593 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @08:35AM (#14807443)
    The programming/programmer isn't what made the iPod an iPod. When I turn on one of my 3 iPods, I don't say "man, that coder sure r00leZ!".

    Something to do with style, quality, user interface, ...

    • The programming/programmer isn't what made the iPod an iPod. When I turn on one of my 3 iPods, I don't say "man, that coder sure r00leZ!".

      Something to do with style, quality, user interface, ...

      What? You don't think user interface has anything to do with programming?

      From TFA

      Samsung executives said they had engaged Mr. Mercer and Iventor to design a user interface for the Z5 because they were hoping to offer an ease of use that matched that of the iPod,

      I'd also say that style & quality in a mp3 player ar

    • When I turn on one of my 3 iPods, I don't say "man, that coder sure r00leZ!".

      You Really Should, you know. That Design & UI isn't all in the hardware.

  • Good for Samsung (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ROOK*CA ( 703602 )
    Competition is always a good thing for the consumer, although given Apple's dominate position and the excellent iPod/iTMS combo it's going to be a real challenge to even come close to unseating them from the top dog position (especially given that Apple could always just start licensing Fair Play if anyone looks to be getting close). It does however appear that the Samsung device is missing a few things ... podcasts? video? (yeah I know who watches video on their little iPod screen anyways? well until you
  • Isn't a big part of the iPod's appeal the "connected" iTunes site?

    FWIW, the Samsung thing looks like "iPod with everything round made square" to me.
  • The New York Times reports that Samsung has hired the same programming genius who helped make the iPod so great to design its own music player

    "Genius" indeed. Since when did you need to be genius to implement something as trivial as an mp3 player?
    • "Genius" indeed. Since when did you need to be genius to implement something as trivial as an mp3 player?

      If you have to ask, you don't understand the problem.

  • That sounds so pathetic.

    [Rants On Unjustified=SoTrue]
    First companies put their own engineers to ass feeding them with shit work. Then they hire "cool consultant" to do the job, claiming that it's own engineers are "incapabable". When own engineer tells management "We need X, Y & Z to make the product rock", management tells them to "Too expensive, you know shit, sod off, file an issue with our issue tracking system, etc." When expensive consultant tells management "You need X, Y & Z to make the prod
  • The story they're trying to give you is "Samsung hired the brains behind the iPod", when really, the story is "Samsung hired a guy who founded the company that provided the OS on the early generation iPod, but who hasn't actually worked for Apple since 1994".

    i.e., they want you to think that this means Samsung is going to kill the iPod, when really it just means they're desperate.

    The iPod's interface is great, sure, but if it takes hiring this particular guy for them to come up with a better one, that's jus
  • That all sounds well and good, but does it play all the music that Joe & Jane Q Public has ripped with iTunes [apple.com]? No? They'd have to rip it again to something else? Then why would they want it?
  • It's an ipod-factor device with a hard drive, and the whole front of the thing is a screen. It's got 802.11 built in, and has slick, idiot-proof syncing and maybe PTP functionality.

    It plays music, videos, and doesn't do much else - but has a programming interface available. Perhaps a wheel on the side. It's no thicker than the current ipod, and if at all possible, it's much thinner.

    Hey, Palm. This is opportunity. Knock?
  • Excuse me, but what the hell has ever been "innovative" in the iPod? iPod is not about innovation, it's about user experience, ease of use, streamlined and beautiful piece of electronics, not about "innovation".

    The first iPod was not innovative, the iPod micro was not innovative, the iPod Shuffle would not have been innovative 2 years before it was released, the video iPod was obsolete a year before it was released at least (innovation-wise). The iPod has never been about innovation, creating a product "as

    • Regardless of whether you call the iPod "innovative", I think we can all agree that creating a product just like the iPod using the same designer is probably the least "innovative" thing Samsung could possibly do.

      Copying an innovative product isn't innovation. Copying a product that wasn't really all that innovative in the first place is just dumb. Either way, Samsung loses.

  • by GaryPatterson ( 852699 ) on Monday February 27, 2006 @09:34AM (#14807656)
    The iPod is not a software device only - the hardware is a big part of its success.

    It doesn't take a genius to write the software for the iPod. It's well-written, yes, but my Nano has crashed a couple of times, so it's far from perfect.

    The genius of the iPod comes from the hardware - the feel of the device when you first touch it, the click wheel that controls the menus so easily and intuitively (I've seen people learn to use the iPod is ten seconds from a standing start). The software is important, but the hardware is where the genius is.

    Oh, and there's iTunes and the music store. They're good too!

    Samsung employed the wrong person. They wanted Johnathan Ives, not some developer.
  • Direct links (Score:2, Informative)

  • Cheap Storage + Cheap Controller + Fairly Cheap Battery = MASSIVE EXPENSIVE THINGIE!

    Can someone explain to me why Mp3 players are so frikkin expensive?

    Is Mp3 like 10 bln. to liscence?
  • "The Z5, shaped like a stick of gum..."

    And in the device's promotional materials, there's an asterisk that points to: "Do not chew Z5," right?
  • So, Samsung hired away a good software developer. Possibly an excellent developer / designer. But the real brains behind iPod are Jonathon Ive's design team, and Steve Job's and the business team that market the iPod. Somehow I doubt it'd be easy to steal them.

    And PlaysForSure is so damn Orwellian that it's well - so damn Orwellian. I'd hope the Times would do a better job explaining the joys of MS's attempt to force us to a subscription model (or at least away from Apple.

  • When will Samsung and Creative learn? It's NOT all about the hardware! There's no chicken-or-egg argument, you have to have both the chicken (the digital player) AND the egg (the software and content) to succeed in this market. There are a lot of fine players that are as good or better than the iPod, but none of the music services utilizing WMA can compete with iTunes.

    The problem? This whole music subscription model. It doesn't work, because it puts the concerns of the industry ahead of the concerns of
  • Ipod=mp3 player to a very large percentage of people. I saw a guy at work who had another brand player, someone asked what it was, he told them it was a (insert brand/model, i don't remember) they get a blank look, he says it's like an Ipod they say "oh, ok". I can't think of any other product that has this effect to this degree. The earlier post mentioned Kleenex, Kleenex has Puffs. Coke has Pepsi. Legos has Mega blocks. To most mp3 player=Ipod. How many other players can you identify by the earbuds? I ca
  • These guys are a riot! I mean, great anecdote!...no wait, they're serious?
    If you own Samsung stock you must be so proud of watching money thrown out on this venture. If only rival companies had gone after the OS market with such frivolty, we might have had stronger alternatives by now.
    OT, I know, blah blah...
  • Compared to the Nano, this is just not attractive.

    So I'm not buying THAT for the wife.

    And for me, it would need to offer something new, something I really want -- playing ogg vorbis, but limiting me to windows, giveth and then taketh away any reason to buy this over the Nano.
  • The brains behind the IPod (or at least the IPod software), if it can be boiled down to one person, is Jeff Robbin [wikipedia.org]. He co-wrote SoundJam MP MP3 player, which became ITunes, and led the team who developed the firmware for the IPod [wikipedia.org].

    Paul Mercer, and Pixo, created the user interface library, nothing more. As developers know, having a good user interface library is important, but doesn't really effect the elegance or usability of the user interface.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham