Dell Plays Digital DJ

In a move designed to challenge Apple for control of the portable MP3 player market, Dell Monday took the wraps off a new digital music player and a new music service to feed it.

Officially called the Dell Digital Jukebox, but colloquially known as the Dell “DJ,” the device weighs in at 7.6 ounces, and comes with a choice of either 15- or 20-gigabyte hard drives from Hitachi .

The new product marks the latest step in what experts have labeled a “consumer-oriented” transformation for Round Rock, Tex.-based Dell. Earlier this month, it released a new family of Personal Digital Assistants. Now, with the company’s first-ever digital music player, officials say the firm is ready to hit the consumer market running.

“As we see it, the Digital Jukebox is a natural fit for our new focus on consumer electronics,” said Donnie Oliphant, senior product marketing manager for the device. “With the usability and functionality of this device, it’s a perfect complement to our pre-existing product lines.”

It also simply makes sense. With the Apple iPod monopolizing the sales and revenue markets and rival Gateway launching an MP3 device of its own this summer, Dell could not have picked a better time to jump into the digital music game. PC sales are down, the portable MP3 player market continues to experience robust growth, and hard-drive based portable jukeboxes are attracting consumers in greater numbers than the devices based on Flash memory. What’s more, according to a recent report by IDC Senior Analyst Susan Kevorkian, worldwide portable MP3 player unit shipments will grow from 11.62 million units in 2002 to 36.64 million units in 2007.

As Oliphant explained to, the new Dell product features a built-in rechargeable lithium-polymer battery that provides up to 16 hours of continuous music playback, and a 2-inch backlit LCD display with a front-mounted scroll barrel for one-handed operation. In lieu of the standard slim-line AC adapter, the DJ also boasts a USB 2.0 cable that enables users to connect it to a desktop or notebook computer and charge the battery that way.

In addition, with the help of the Hitachi Travelstar C4K40 1.8-inch mobile hard drive, the DJ can serve as a digital voice recorder or as a way to back up critical data.

“Our hard drive gives users flexibility to use the [Dell] device in a variety of ways,” said Rocky Laroia, director of market and product strategy for Hitachi. “We are proud to make something so small that can perform at such a high level.”

Feeding the device’s hard drive with songs should be easy, thanks to a service partnership that Dell announced today with San Diego, Calif.-based Internet music clearinghouse Musicmatch. This no-subscription service will allow users to download their choice of more than 250,000 songs for 99 cents apiece, much like the model that market leader Apple unveiled earlier this year for its iTunes product. Musicmatch officials predicted they would offer more than 500,000 tracks by Dec. 31.

More immediately, the Dell Digital Jukebox was scheduled to be available through the Dell Music Store starting Tuesday. According to Oliphant, the 15-gigabyte DJ will retail for $249, while the 20-gigabyte model will sell for $329.

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