Back when Mp3 players were expensive, an innovative company had the idea to make Gameboy MP3 player: The Songpro. In this article let's piece together the fascinating history of an obscure Gameboy accessory.
Enter the Songpro
The Gameboy Advanced saw the release of an official MP3 player cart that could take SD cards, there was one Gameboy Mp3 player that beat it to the punch: The Songpro for Gameboy.
Yes, it saw release. Yes it's rare. And yes it's fascinating. While the device is now known as the SongPRO, it used to be called the SongBOY.
Nintendo don't mess around with their IPs. They promply sued the company for original name of the device "Songboy". An old IGN article also claims that Nintendo's issues were about "the use of the controversial MP3 format with the family-orientated Game Boy system."
"We are pleased that we were able to come together and find a common ground for agreement," said Richard Flamm, vice president and general counsel, Nintendo of America. "Nintendo is committed to protecting its intellectual property rights and we appreciate Song-Pro's cooperation in resolving this situation."
"We are pleased that we were able to come together and find a common ground for agreement, " notes Richard Flamm, vice president and general counsel, Nintendo of America. "Nintendo is committed to protecting its intellectual property rights and we appreciate Song-Pro's cooperation in resolving this situation."
The result is a change of branding and domain from Songboy to Songpro.
The two devices
Browsing the old site, not one but TWO song pros were to be released. The first was the Songpro Junior: one card slot, mic jack and mini USB interface. Here's an upscale version of what that would have looked like.
But the most interesting one (that put the PRO in SongPRO!) would be this bad boy:
Unlike the first one there's plenty hardware buttons, the Gameboy would have simply been left with the screen and display duties while this did the rest.
Space would have been plenty. 32 whopping MB of on board storage with DUAL MMC slots (thin, previous generations of the SD cards. SD slots can read this).
While it wasn't featured on the site, this evidently could be used as a recorder because of the record and "internal mic" you see in the schematic above.
From what I can gather, neither of the above ever released. The release version, named just "Songpro" seems slicker and smaller.
But that's not all. The aging MMC was replaced with an SD card slot. Standard SDs could go up to 2gb, way more than what the cover box 512mb.
So you could get about 400 songs in there assuming 5 mb per song. Here's the thing. Gathering from a pre-release manual (Filled with "TBD") like so:
How does a pre-release manual like this, filled with placeholder information and outdated specs get online? No idea. Moving on, the interesting part is here:
Did you catch that? Not one but TWO MMC ports were planned. Since the manual was already drafted, one is to think that it was really close to release.
Whatever the case the accessory saw physical, boxed release however, the single SD card version.
Since it had a micro USB interface, you didn't need a card reader to load up your music. It supported both MP3 and WMA and even a proprietary Song Pro format. That last one supported pictures and lyrics.
The Box featured a heavily stylized 90s hitmaker Nelly or his lookalike.
Why Nelly? Well, he was a spokesperson for the Company. Here he is showing off the device:
Media Player skins
Browsing the Songpro website, something caught my attention. How would you make people "test drive" such a device WITHOUT having it in their hands? The answer, Windows Media Player skins.
Ah to be back in the 90s again! With some minimal wizardry, I downloaded the wmz files that contained the skins. I was ready to install windows XP to get an old copy of windows media player but my jaw dropped when I saw this:
Turns out the latest and greatest version of Windows Media Player STILL support skins that are decades old! Oh joy. The skin is basically a photograph of the Gameboy with the screen left for the visualization.
I expected some programing that simulated what one would see if they booted the Gameboy but it's just the default Windows Media Player visualizations.
It's no emulator but you do have a good grasp of how this thing worked in action. But it only got better as one could cycle trough different colors.
What about the GBA?
It only gets better from there. Turns out Nintendo AGAIN contacted them to remove the Gameboy advance skin on their site which they did. But that's nothing a trip further down in Wayback Machine can't fix. And voila, Gameboy Advance skin:
Just like the Gameboy counterpart, you could also cycle trough colors and the skin was made from a few BMPs with the screen punched out for display.
Can this possibly get even better?
You poor person, of course it can. There was even a Neo Geo Pocket version of the skin! Feast your eyes on this:
Yup there was supposed to be a NGP version but from what I can see it never saw release. And you betcha there were multiple colors to cycle trough. Evidently the device would have been bigger there as opposed to the Gameboy version. Inexplicably the website on the NeoGeo shows Song Jones?
All of the skins feature an equalizer feature. Weirdly enough these were different depending on the skin used: GBC, GBA or NGP. This leads me to believe that these were actual representations of a in-device feature but who knows.
Here's the pitch of the CEO Mark Bush on a CNN segment: The anchor asked why she should invest as an Angel Investor:
"First of all we have a price point lower than any other digital music player. We are projected to sell more media music players than the entire market, which is about 3 million. We have confirmed distributor interest that suggest that . The shares of now offered at $2. And we have room available. We'll be giving away 10,000 advertiser sponsored downloads weekly that will attract content and attract more consumers to our space."
The fact that he as leaning on the large gameboy user base was good. But ultimately it was too little, too late. The gameboy advance was already there and that accessory practically killed the portability. Mp3 players started to become cheaper and cheaper so the window was closing fast.
Even Nintendo released their own Mp3 player for the GBA, pretty much cementing the company's doom. It's nowhere near as cool tough.