Audible's Lost MobilePlayer

Orphaned and abandoned hardware.

May 15, 2014

How many of us audiobook fanatics and Audible Stockholm Syndrome customers realize that Audible once sold hardware?

Back in 1998 (or late 1997 - Wikipedia is a bit unclear), Audible released the MobilePlayer. You connected the thing through the serial port on your computer, fired up Windows 95, and downloaded your maximum of 2 hours of audio to the device.  

A 1999 review of the Audible MobilePlayer found that the system “works as advertised”.  I was also interested to learn that the Audible MobilePlayer was designed by IDEO.  The design actually looks quite nice.

The original player cost $99 if you agreed to purchase at least $120 worth of Audibooks throughout the year. Apparently, a player with more memory (the original had 4mb) was in the works - one able to hold up to 7.5 hours of audio - but I can’t find any record of it ever being released

The date when Audible’s MobilePlayer was discontinued is also a bit unclear. The iPod, which killed all the other portable audio players, was not released until 2001.  

Could you buy an Audible MobilePlayer in 2000? I don’t know.

Why do I find this Audible MobilePlayer so fascinating?

I had no idea that Audible ever released any hardware until I stumbled on an article on the Rise of the Audiobook

The idea that at one point Audible was combining content, software and hardware is intriguing. Today, with the iPod and the iPad and the Kindle, this strategy seems mainstream.  Back in 1997 Audible was ahead of the game.

I fully expect that we will soon see an Amazon phone.  

My expectation is that digital books will be deeply embedded in the OS, and that buying and consuming e-books and audiobooks will be seamless.  

Amazon will do this because Apple insists on a cut if books are purchased from the iOS Kindle or Audible app.  

Will anyone remember Audible’s MobilePlayer when the Amazon phone emerges?

What is your favorite orphaned and abandoned hardware?

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Joshua Kim

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