Attempting to crowd fund a dedicated MP3 player in 2013 is a risky proposition. We're long removed from the days when traditional iPods could be seen on every street. Rather, we're firmly in an era where smartphones have supplanted PMPs for a vast majority of people. But having said all that, you've never seen anything quite like the Kickstarter project launched by London-based startup Cybotanics today. We haven't either. Meet iBean and iTagua, described as "the world’s very first digital audio music players designed using whole natural botanical casings, gathered sustainably from the amazon rainforest."
This isn't your typical MP3 player
More succinctly, they're tiny MP3 players (think a round iPod shuffle) encased in either a bean or Tagua palm nut. And they don't just play back MP3s. If the whole concept wasn't bizarre enough already, these devices have been designed for lossless audio. They don't support FLAC — the preferred format of many audiophiles. Instead, Money's Audio (.ape file extension) is the native format of iBean and iTagua. They'll play regular MP3s too, of course.
In terms of how both products are crafted, think of it as a worldwide effort. Each botanical casing is sourced from Colombia. (Cybotanics says their vines grow "in great abundance" and that the project poses no harm to the environment.) From there, it's about repurposing and refinement. Take the iBean for example:
Each bean is carefully hand-selected for its symmetry and natural beauty and is polished to a high shine using a special stone polishing tumbler before the inside kernel is carefully removed and swapped with the digital media player circuit board and battery which is then securely housed within. The iBean’s unusual polycarbonate-like shell makes a natural and incredibly strong casing as an alternative to plastic or metal.
The iTagua is said to be just as unique, though the housing material obviously differs substantially. Like iBean, Cybotanics is confident the ivory-like properties of its Tagua nuts make them a viable substitute for plastic. There's also more room for personalization with iTagua; backers can choose from a variety of dyed color combinations. Assembly occurs in Bogota, with each player afforded 2GB of flash storage. That's obviously not enough to store more than a few hours worth of lossless audio (if that).
2GB of storage for a lossless audio player doesn't quite add up
But again, these devices are essentially an eco-friendly take on the iPod shuffle. We're not convinced that a legitimate target market even exists here; put lightly, audiophiles aren't likely to be buying these things en masse. The novelty factor can't be denied however, as evidenced by the below video.
But is novelty enough to spur £30,000 (roughly $45,500) in funding? That's what it will take to put iBean and iTagua into production, even after the $60,000 in private equity that's apparently gone toward the project already. We won't argue the one-of-a-kind nature of what's on offer here, and either would make for a cute holiday gift. (They won't reach backers until December.) But unfortunately, it's just as hard to shake the feeling that this is an idea that's found its way to the world ten or so years too late.
Update: In a FAQ at the project's Kickstarter page, Cybotanics has clarified that both iBean and iTagua do in fact support the FLAC lossless format, as well as OGG Vorbis.