I was in some electronics store last week and stumbled on the Olympus M:ROBE series of music+ gadgets.

I don't think either are going to be any kind of real competition to Apple's iPod but both are among the more sexy designs available. Lots of the digital audio players that are out look pretty bad.

There are 2 models. The MR-100 model is the smaller one, it's about the size of an iPod mini and has 5gig of space as well. It's got an all touch screen control. There are no actual buttons, just a flat surface with pre−etched red−orange icons glowing under it. You slide your fingers over it to go through menus and/or adjust stuff. The display at the top is also red−orange. If they could have gotten the display's black to 100% match the non−display's black it would look perfect. I have no idea if the interface is actually good or not. Not being able to feel the buttons might make it hard to use without looking directly at it but still, it looks cool.

The MR-500i model is bigger. Bigger than an iPod−Photo. But, instead of being cluttered with controls it as well has no controls. The whole thing is a display which is all touch screen.

Touch it and controls appear. Very slick. Also as the display is large it's great for photos. Even more crazy, it's got a digital camera built in.

Sadly it's only a 1megapixel camera.

One thing they didn't get right though is speed. My friend has an iPod−Photo and it's amazing how quickly you can shuffle through your photos. The MR−500i felt like a typical digital camera in that going through pictures took time. Even if it was only a second or two to pull up an index page it was still too long once you've used better.

Also they have this silly idea that users are going to want to make slideshows with fancy cuts to music and put lots of features for that in it. I can't really imagine anyone trying that out more than once if even at all.

But, in any case, they certainly do inspire ideas about new gadgets. An iPod with a larger screen and a more Apple like interface would rock. Casio and other companies have shown they can put a decent point and shoot digital camera in a package this size so it's only a matter of time before we get something like say the Sony DSC-T3 merged with a 20+gig HD, a great interface and music software.

small is big
Mac Mini