Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Here's to the frugal ones -- the discounters, the copycats, the bean counters, the followers who knock off established flagships, the ones who do things cheaply. They're not fond of design patents and they have no respect for the sine qua non. You can mock them, ridicule their brands, deride their usability or quality. But the only thing you can't do is lowball them. Because they sell things. They push the average price downward. And while some may see in them the parasitic blight of top-tier corporations, we see the efficiency of low overhead and outsourced manufacturing. Because the ones who are bold enough to try selling commoditized products for less are the ones who do.
Before the iPod overtook the Hampton Jitney as New Yorkers' favored way to escape New York, a far less expensive portable music device graced many a Manhattan neck. Popular at closeout havens like the defunct Odd-Job and still sold in drug store chains, the Coby Mini AM-FM Radio with Neck Strap -- well-represented by model CX-7 -- delivered low-tech downmarket chic. Coby and its ilk have thrived offering aging portable audio formats. Among its extensive line of 12 CD boomboxes are models that resemble bygone designs from Sony and JVC. And that's just a warmup. The company's Web site lists a mind-boggling 43 models of portable CD players. It seems that some Coby products take longer to retire than the Rolling Stones.
Over the past few years, though, Coby -- which now boasts the lofty tagline "Innovations for Every Lifestyle" -- has dabbled in hipper products such as LCD televisions, two 20GB portable MP3 players (one even with a color screen and touch controls) and even a trio of portable video players, one of which has a 40 GB hard drive and 7-inch screen! Yet, I was quite surprised when I saw something at Coby's 2005 CES booth that actually came to the the US market in late 2006 -- a smal, inexpensive, flash-based boombox/alarm clock. The unambiguously named MP-C341 Portable MP3 Boom Box with 256MB of built-in flash memory and an SD card slot includes an AC adapter and removeable carry rope, although removing it makes it look like the product has a single earring. This is an obvious marketing ploy for the pirate market.