The Rebirth of Iomega
Iomega was once a major power in the PC market. The manufacturer’s Iomega Click drive was, for a while, alone in the class of then high capacity portable storage (yes, once upon a time, 40MB was considered high capacity), but then thumb drives debuted and Iomega came close to dropping out of the market. EMC, the largest pure storage vendor in the business market recently bought the company though, and the result was a rebirth. But these days, the storage market is awash with inexpensive hardware, and the problem folks are dealing with has more to do with getting this stuff to work than anything else.
To wit, EMC offers some of the strongest enterprise storage products in the market, but no homeowner wants to be an IT manager. Thus the trick for the firm is to provide something with the reliability consistent with what a large company wants in a product, yet is priced for the consumer and is vastly easier to use. In addition, increasingly, people are either pulling stuff from the web or putting it up there. Fortunately, EMC bought two companies (Mozy and PI) that can help in this regard. The first does online storage and backup; the other next-generation Sync. EMC then merged the two into a subsidiary called Decho. These guys are evidently serious about this market and the next step is to merge the offerings into solutions.
If you want to see how serious they are, check out this Popular Mechanics video testing various drives; they truly abuse the Iomega hardened drive and it is the only drive Popular Mechanics can’t seem to break (the 15” drop onto concrete for the hardened drives was particularly painful to watch).
Home Media Server
The Home Media Server category is about where MP3 players were before Apple entered the market: Currently, there is no product on the market that comes close to what Apple has done with the iPod for this segment. Up until now HP has probably come closest with their MediaSmart Server and Media Vault, both of which have consumer-level industrial design, adequate ease of use, and come in towards the high end of the market.
But Iomega also has its ix2 offering here, which actually does some interesting things. First of all, setting the device up is very quick and in line with doing the same for HP’s products. It matches HP-developed hardware in terms of iTunes support as well, which means both supporting the non-DRM form of iTunes easily (don’t get me started on Apple’s DRM crap) and sporting backup features that work seamlessly in the background. The HP products do a better job with web hosting content and have a more attractive design, while the Iomega offering does a better job with Bluetooth support, security camera hosting, and capacity for the price.
However, the HP MediaSmart Server is a true server which means it can run third-party applications, one of the most compelling of which is a DVR, or built in self-contained Digital Video Recorder. Unfortunately, it is still a bit of a science experiment to set this capability up and the Microsoft Home Server platform upon which the HP product is based desperately needs something like the Apple iPhone Application Store to make it more useful and compelling.
A unique additional product Iomega offers is the ScreenPlay HD Multimedia Drive which you use to physically move media files from your PC to your TV and then play them with a remote control. This is probably easier for most than media extenders which do the same thing wirelessly. Nonetheless, both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are rapidly closing the window for things that you have to physically unplug and move between stations and the cable industry is slowly working to close this gap as well. Hence I wonder how long a market for something like this will continue.
However, for those that have no intention of setting up a home network this may be the only way to move video files to their big screen and that at least suggests some market for this kind of product will be around for awhile. And for those that want to use their PS2 or Xbox Iomega has another product called the Media Xporter drive which integrates with those two game systems via USB.
I was kind of impressed with the Popular Mechanics test I pointed to at the beginning of this column. Iomega evidently builds an impressively robust product, but for ease of use the company that sets the bar is ClickFree. ClickFree provides a nearly no-click backup service along with their portable drives which automatically backup your critical files simply by plugging the drive in and letting the embedded application run.
The Iomega portable products have a very good industrial design, are incredibly robust, and have a lot of product variety with a lot of color choice, though. One product, the eGo Helium, even appears to use the same design language as the MacBook Air. Most prices are around or under $100, which generally makes them a good deal as well.
Iomega, now an EMC subsidiary, is back, and over the short time EMC has owned them they have broadened their lines and actually have an impressive set of products, albeit nothing yet like the Click or Apple iPod that’s ready to revolutionize the category. The company’s present challenge is to take leadership in what is a very active segment and find a way to deliver the first iPod-like home media offering, which many large multinational companies are also in the race to develop. Currently, Iomega has one of the broadest product lines and an impressive quality and reliability record, putting it clearly towards the front of the pack in the sprint to create a more iPod-like storage offering. If the company can get to this goal first, it could blow this market open. Until then, if you need an external drive, Iomega isn’t a bad place to start, or end, your search, and with EMC behind the manufacturer, it’s also of the few firms in this class that is likely to be around this time next year.