Flashback 1998: Birth of the MP3 Player

Apple didn’t invent the MP3/digital music player but it did single-handedly create the market for it with the iPod, which debuted in October 2001 with the enticing tagline “1,000 songs in your pocket.” By mid 2003, sales of the iconic device topped 1 million. So if Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, who did?

Diamond Multimedia with its Rio PMP300 player is often cited as the first but the honor actually goes to an obscure South Korean company, SaeHan, which introduced the MPMan solid-state player in March 1998—more than three years before the iPod. Internal memory was limited to 32 or 64 MB—that’s right megabytes. Once you hitched the player’s docking station to your computer, the best you could do was encode and transfer maybe 20 songs, if you were lucky.

Eiger Labs rebranded and imported the 32-MB player to North America as the MPMan F10 and sold it for around $250. It weighed 2.2 ounces and was nice and compact at 3.5 x 2.75 x 0.6 inches. The company also marketed the MPMan F20, which had a SmartMedia card expansion slot and ran on a single AA battery, instead of the F10’s rechargeable NiMH battery.

By comparison, the original iPod boasted 32 MB of RAM plus 5 or 10 GB of storage, measured 4 x 2.4 x 0.8 inches, and weighed 6.5 ounces (most of the weight attributable to its whirring hard drive).

For a stroll down iPod Memory Lane, check out “The History of the iPod Classic”.