AOL has announced that it is taking part in the development of a portable media player with a Haier-manufactured player that looks like it was put together by the company's East German industrial design division, and then forged from plate iron in a Soviet-era smelting factory -- in fact, it appears as if this product has something to do with AOL's acquisition of the zany WildSeed guys a while back. Equally amusing as its fugly design is the fact that the only picture of the device at CES is of a model which has a broken button (check out the skip track button on the right.) That doesn't really say much about the Germanic design we were just joking about now does it? Fortunately for Engadget's parent company (disclosure: AOL is our parent company's parent), the device's internals aren't so dated -- which is good because otherwise we'd be completely panning the thing right about now. Apparently the player has a Linux-based text interface -- that has been developed by AOL's Tegic unit -- and is controlled by a touch pad, packs a 30GB hard drive, plays MPEG-4 and WMV videos, and has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth for listening to internet radio stations and downloading songs from paid Windows Media music stores like Napster, Rhapsody, and Yahoo! In summary: AOL and Haier are planning to release a truly ugly player that counters its ugliness with a varied and genuinely intriguing feature set: maybe our -- non-corporate -- parents were right, beauty really is only skin deep! According to PC Magazine, we should expect to see a retail release of the Smartscreen Media Device sometime around the second or third quarter of 2007.

[Via Linux Devices]

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AOL and Haier's Linux-based "Smartscreen Media Device" flies in from left field