December the 10th, 2023 – Did you know that you can thank an innovative Croat for the very first software MP3 player? Meet Tomislav Uzelac.
Let’s roll the clock all the way back to 1997. Croatia was a more or less newly independent country, Yugoslavia was no more, and the Homeland War had been bitterly fought to ensure Croatia’s ability to stand on its own two feet, outside of the shackles of being a “socialist republic”.
As a newly independent nation, Croatia was more free than it ever had been to spread its wings and begin utilising the endless talent it produces to explore the world of tech – then in its relative infancy. The popularity of LPs had waned, and CDs were all the rage. I’m sure all of us can remember trying to force that gigantic portable CD player into our jacket pockets as we listened to the only song we purchased that album for skipping away because it was so scratched. While we thought that cumbersome round object with a screen resembling an alarm clock was the height of technology at the time, something new was brewing – the rise of the MP3 player.
That’s where the talented Tomislav Uzelac comes into the story of portable music in the new(ish) age. Having studied at the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing (or FER, as we all know it), Uzelac clearly had a natural curiosity about technological development. Under Professor Mario Kovac, he began working on MP3 software decoding. Graduating later from FER with a degree in engineering, programmer Tomislav Uzelac was the first to write an amp MPEG audio decoder. This innovation is considered to be the very first successful software MP3 player.
Instead of accidentally “doing a Tesla” and leaving too much time for someone else to come along and rob the idea, he decided he needed to commercially manage AMP. He teamed up with Brian Litman (a US media entrepreneur) and formed Advanced Multimedia Products (or AMP for short). After some time had passed, Advanced Multimedia Productions merged with PlayMedia Systems, of which Tomislav Uzelac was also a co-founder.
As 1997 drew to a close and 1998 rolled around, the giant round portable CD players everyone had once thought were state of the art were kicked out of the spotlight by the huge popularisation of MP3 players. With no CD purchases necessary and much, much smaller, they took the entire world by storm. AMP shot into the limelight and was a key facilitator in that worldwide MP3 player popularisation.
Two American students from the University of Utah were the ones to adapt Tomislav Uzelac’s genius MP3 player decoder, making it function for the widely used Windows. Dmitry Boldyrev and Justin Frankel are known for their work on the Winamp media player, their adaptation of Uzelac’s initial innovation.