Walking around the Digital Summer event in London last week a number of things became obvious. First, everyone wants the sound to come off their iPod and into the world of speakers. Second, people are starting to focus on how to get sounds that aren't prerecorded onto an iPod in the first place. This led inevitably to a selection of devices that allow you to record voice while on the move.
This is nothing new. As a jobbing journalist I've been using a very nice Olympus WS-320M (now obsolete but goodness knows why, it's smaller than most recorders and the sound quality beats many) since it was twice its current price.
The issue now, though, is that the manufacturers - Olympus included - believe people are going to want to record things either to broadcast or to commit to CD, if the thoughts in question are about music.
Olympus' answer is already available in the shape of the LS-10. The key difference is that although many of the previous products were good quality stereo devices this one's designed to capture every nuance and with the addition of external microphones it should - and I haven't tried it in anger - be suitable for professional music recording.
The main competitor at the show was Belkin, which is at last ready to launch the Studio Go, Podcast Studio or whatever they end up calling it. It's so new and as yet unavailable that it's not on the Belkin website but CNET had a preview of it a couple of months ago. It's nifty, lightweight and cheap - we're talking pocket money prices of a couple of hundred dollars at the most. The disadvantage is that you get tied into buying an iPod for it if you don't already have one, and there are those in the tech community who'd rather not get tied into Apple so comprehensively.
A sanity check will be whether the market actually wants the ability to podcast in a pocket. My instinct is that sections of it will - but I'm a journalist moving into podcasting (my effort at www.hrpodcast.co.uk is an example) so my perception may be a little distorted. Corporate podcasters might find the gear useful but then if a corporate is going to do a podcast they tend to opt for costlier equipment.
Personally I see a bright future for this category of product as the whole web 2.0 thing (use whichever of the many definitions you'd prefer) grows in importance. The question for Olympus is whether it really wants to spend all that time marketing itself as a voice recorder specialist when profits in cameras, its traditional stronghold, are under such pressure.