The Portable Media Player Is Dead, Long Live the... Portable Media Player

The portents have hung in the air for a while, but it's clear now that the traditional dumb PMP is dead, like a dull and rusted Swiss army knife. In their stead we'll have...smart PMPs.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but yeah, we're talking about the iPod touch model: It's about platforms. That run apps. That people can develop awesome little programs for. In other words, a good PMP won't just have great codec support and be able to push HD video, it'll get you on Twitter or Facebook or tell you what's good to eat nearby.

Not convinced? Check out the new Archos 5, which dumps the old OS for Android. Or the Creative Zii, also allegedly launching with Android. If you're in the second tier, grabbing a popular app-friendly platform is not a bad way to compete.

Apple itself noted that old-school iPods were on a death march—so the company added a video camera to the nano, to keep it alive for a generation or two more. True, Sony's X-Series appears to be keeping on keeping on, but it feels like an anacrhonism, albeit with a nice screen—no extendability, and a horrible internet browser.

The argument really comes down to the Zune HD, launching this week. It finds itself in an awkward position, essentially because of the effective limbo Microsoft's mobile OS is in—in other words you can't easily develop apps for both Zune HD and Windows Mobile, which Zune's Brian Seitz basically admitted to the Seattle Times: "What we didn't want to do was build two parallel app store experiences that didn't work together."

So there's no open app store, but in the meantime, Microsoft's providing the apps with a handful of chosen developers, so we're stuck with games, and soon a Twitter and Facebook app. But what is clear is that Zune is a platform that people can develop for. And it seems inevitable that'll be common with the next version of Windows Mobile, or the mysterious project Pink, if that is something else—at least, if Microsoft's actually serious about the Zune having a future.

In other words, it's startlingly clear now that the traditional PMP is history, replaced by PMPs powered by mobile platforms. They're smartphones without the "phone," and even lacking that major element, they're surprisingly valuable, more pocket computer—with internet and apps—than glorified video player.