There is a French company, Archos, that had the bad luck of inventing the future a little too early multiple times.

The first time was the Archos Jukebox, which they released in 2000. It was basically a hardware MP3 wrapped around a 2.5" 6GB hard drive. That was absolutely massive capacity at the time. (The original iPod, released more than a year later, only stored 5GB.)

Like most digital music players, it got absolutely clobbered by the iPod.

Archos followed up the Jukebox in 2002 with the Jukebox Multimedia, which was basically the same device but with 20GB of storage, a 1.5" color LCD and the ability to play not just MP3 music, but MP4 video.

Apple didn't have an iPod capable of playing video until 2005. But once they did, it clobbered the Jukebox Multimedia too.

Archos responded in 2006 with its Generation 4 devices. These had 30GB of storage, a much larger screen, WiFi (plus a real Web browser, Opera), and a whole bunch of other goodies.

(They partnered with Dish Network, for instance, to let you download shows recorded on their DVR to your Gen4 to watch on the go. I used this to watch last night's shows on the train to work.)

That did pretty well until 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone and, well... sigh.

Archos still exists, but they don't bother competing with Apple anymore. Now they just make forgettable, disposable Android devices. (And a hardware crypto wallet now, I guess?)

It's too bad. I owned most of the devices I listed above, and each one was a real glimpse into the future. But in tech, seeing the future isn't, by itself, enough. And the first runner off the blocks doesn't win the race as often as you'd think.

Postscript: You may have heard of Rockbox, free open-source firmware that breathes new life into a whole range of older MP3 players:

Rockbox was first developed to run on the original Archos Jukebox. Hence the name.

Post-Postscript. Let’s go back to the original Archos Jukebox for a sec. Notice how the sides are rounded/tubular?

That’s because that is where the batteries went. It ran on four plain old rechargeable AA batteries. So when the batteries finally couldn’t hold a charge anymore, you didn’t have to throw the whole gadget away; you just popped out the old batteries, popped in four fresh ones, and off you went.

We live in a world full of disposable devices. This was something different.

@jalefkowit I thought the Archos were so cool, but yeah, they were just so freaking expensive and the audio quality was not great.

@jalefkowit In a lot of ways it reminds me of Windows CE and Newton vs iPad.

MS, Palm, Handspring, and Apple took quite a few iterations to make a tablet that didn't completely suck. MS especially with their "how about just... windows UI, but like freaking tiny"

@jalefkowit I also remember drooling over ... Maybe it was called an Archos 7? Something like that. I think that was in the Android era. I wanted one of those too.

Ended up with a Palm TX instead of the Gen 4 Archos, and then a t-mobile G1.

@ajroach42 Yeah, they had an Android tablet they sold as the Archos 7. It suffered the fate of all the other Android tablets, alas. (Though I'd pin that more on Google than on Archos, since basically everyone who bet on Android tablets ended up regretting it.)

@jalefkowit I did not know this. I use both Archos and Rockbox. TIL.

@jalefkowit I like design like this.

The Sony wireless headphones I use almost every day had a custom battery pack, but (in an unsony-like move) the battery pack had the form factor of two AAA batteries stuck together.

That original battery is long gone, but I still use the headset with rechargeable AAAs.

That's good design.

@jalefkowit I had the Archos Studio 10, and it was arguably the best music player I've ever owned. I remember downloading MP3s from Audiogalaxy and filling the drive up before a family vacation.

I had the rechargeables in the player, and a bag of alkaline AAs in a pinch.

@jalefkowit Sadly, they used non-standard USB connectivity (note the USB-A port) and I was never able to get mine to talk with my FBSD laptop even with the help of multiple FBSD developers so I wasn't able to use it very much.

Still have the darn thing. Even know exactly where it is.

@nomad That is super weird. One of the things I liked so much about it was that everything was bog-standard. As far as I knew, that included the USB connectivity -- it was just a USB 1.0 port, in the "standard A" configuration that all USB ports used back then.

I never had any trouble connecting it up via USB, but then again it was 2000-ish we're talking about; nothing about USB back then ever worked right for everybody 😂

@jalefkowit They really don't make them like they used to. Really unfortunate.

@jalefkowit I'm not too good with batteries, but I remember this argument from when the gp2x was released.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't classic swappable batteries hold a lot less power than lipos?
Because I get that you can always replace them, but I always managed not to have some on me when I drained my gp2x.



There's standard size Li-ion cells too. (Like the 18650 used by vape users everywhere) There is no good reason for all of this custom pack irreparable insanity.

@abortretryfail @jalefkowit right, I saw those with a friend, thanks for reminding me.

@Samedi The main issue is that modern devices have their batteries glued on, to save weight and reduce size. But that means when the battery loses its ability to hold a charge, the only thing you can do is replace the whole device.

It was a plus to have replaceable batteries in a form factor that made it super easy to find replacements -- you can buy rechargeable AAs at any corner shop in the world. But "replaceable" was the main thing, not the particular form factor.

@jalefkowit I had one of these. Very easily one of the worst mp3 players I ever had. It was so incredibly bulky and heavy, and the audio quality was terrible. It would hiss into the headphones. Awful, awful mp3 player.

@GabeMoralesVR I'm sorry to hear that. My experience with it was better, but of course my experience doesn't trump yours.

@jalefkowit I loved my archos jukebox. I upgraded the HDD to 80gb and had way more music than all the kids with minidiscs. It was really something else.

@jalefkowit I have a 40GB(?) iRiver MP3 player somewhere that has the rock box firmware installed. I vaguely remember looking at Archos players at the time.

@jalefkowit I had one of these loaded up with media while I travelled through SE Asia back in 08. The charging port broke in Hong Kong so I brought it to a random electronic repair in one of those multi-story electronics malls. The guy fixed it in an hour and it kept going for years. Great device!

@aftergibson What I loved about the Archos devices was how un-proprietary they were. The hard drives were just plain old 2.5" drives, the interface was plain old USB, they mounted as a hard drive when you plugged them in, etc.

This made all sorts of fun hacks possible. People ripped out the original drives and replaced them with higher-capacity ones; they just kept chugging along.

@jalefkowit Exactly. It felt like a hard drive with a screen and a few buttons. I loved it.

@jalefkowit I would struggle to find a device as functional and frictionless today.

@jalefkowit The problem with companies like this was that they just couldn't compete with Apple's UI.

@jalefkowit I had the Gmini 220 because it had a CF card reader to offload photos to! Got a lot of use out of it.

I bought my first Jukebox Recorder 20 around 2004, had to repair it a few times (battery connectors and the charging management chip), changed the hard drive for a 80GB. Wonderful device. Then it died.

Then a Gmini 500 (80GB) in 2007 that could play videos. Dead hard drive after a few years.

Then two more Recorder 20 in 2012 for 12,99€ and 10€ in perfect order, still working perfectly.
On the picture : left is unchanged / right is Rockbox'ed + 32GB CF card with IDE adapter.

@AlkaVirus what can I say, I had been spoiled. By the time there was a 5GB iPod, Archos was selling a 20GB Jukebox

@Fourteen I bought one the year it came out, 2000. The drip was real

@Fourteen Like, I know it looks super clunky today, so you will just have to take my word for it that it blew people's minds when I plugged it into any nearby stereo and started playing random tracks from my music collection

@jalefkowit nah I totally get it, I was being sincere, I would use this now

@Fourteen There are still people out there making weird, funky high-capacity portable music players. They're unfortunately marketed at audiophiles, though, so they ain't cheap.

Two names to look for are Fiio and Astell & Kern:

@jalefkowit at these kinds of prices you could get an android with much more storage which renders them a bit of an unneeded niche, which is a shame because I'm somewhat interested in splitting my smart phone out into a bunch of separate dedicated devices
Still, a good starting place for looking further afield so thanks for that

@Fourteen You could, but the Android wouldn't come with a nice DAC like a dedicated music player would. (How much you'd notice the difference will mostly depend on the quality of the headphones/monitors you plan on listening through.)

@jalefkowit I had one of these. I remember running Rockbox firmware on it. These things were great.

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