By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Sonos has upgraded the Internet radio capabilities of its wireless multi-room-audio system by expanding the number of free Internet radio stations it receives to more than 15,000 from about 400.
With the free upgrade, Sonos systems will also access the free Pandora and Last.fm personalized music services. The system already accesses the subscription-based Napster, Rhapsody, Best Buy and Sirius music services and the ad-free version of Pandora.
"We have been picking off the component-audio rack, and now we're picking off the audio tuner," said president/COO Phil Abram of the Sonos system. The multizone system distributes music wirelessly from a networked PC or network-attached storage (NAS) device to audio systems in other rooms. The system also accesses Internet radio stations and music services through a broadband connection without the aid of a networked PC.
Expanding the system's streaming options will broaden Sonos' core audience of 35- to 50-year-olds who lack the time to rip music and store it on a networked PC, he continued. Consumers who buy Sonos systems, he noted, listen to more music more often after their purchase.
The Internet-streaming enhancements, available through content aggregator Radio Time, are part of a downloadable upgrade available at no charge for current owners. In about six weeks, the enhancements will also be available of the box to consumers as a running change.
In another development, the company launched a free application that turns a Wi-Fi-equipped iPhone or iPod Touch into an RF wireless remote that controls a Sonos system in Wi-Fi-equipped homes. The Sonos Controller for iPhone, which can be downloaded from the iPhone App Store, lets iPhones and Touches perform almost all of the same functions available through Sonos' own LCD-equipped RF remote, although with a different graphical user interface. The Sonos controller uses a scroll wheel instead of a touchscreen.
With the upgrade, Sonos is also making it easier to find Internet radio stations, Abram said. Previously, users could scroll through stations listed by genre and country, but now they can search for live and archived content sorted by genre, artist, country, city, topic, radio host, sports team and other parameters. Users either scroll through station lists sorted by these parameters or type in such search parameters as artist name, country, and the like. Users also get quicker access to streaming terrestrial stations by entering their ZIP code.
Other networked music-streaming devices, either single- or multi-zone, are also capable of streaming as many Internet stations as the Sonos system, but many of those must work through a networked PC, and those that don't have difficult-to-use menus, including one-line displays, Abram said. "Making all that radio useful — being able to easily find a station — and playing it throughout the house is what differentiates us," he claimed.
No other DIY wireless multi-room-audio system can play Internet radio in more than one room at a time without using PC or server, Abram added.
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