By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Consumers will be able to take their recorded Internet radio station streams with them when they're on the go or on the road if startup company Slacker has its way.
The company's executives include former executives from Musicmatch, MP3 player makers Rio and iRiver, and Cisco. Some of them are Musicmatch ex-CEO Dennis Mudd, Rio ex-CEO Jim Cady and iRiver America ex-CEO Jonathan Sasse.
The executives say they are targeting music lovers dissatisfied with satellite radio and MP3 players. For these people, satellite radio is not personalized enough and is limited in portability, while MP3 players are very portable but require users to spend too much time refreshing the content. These consumers favor the personalization of Internet radio and would be eager to use it in portable applications, the company contends.
For these consumers, Slacker plans a late-June launch of Wi-Fi-connected portable MP3 players that store music streams from the company's free, advertiser-supported personalized streaming service and from a planned ad-free subscription service. Both Web radio services can be personalized by the end user.
Consumers tune into the streams from any browser-equipped broadband-connected PC, but when they're away from a PC, users can listen to personalized streams on one of Slacker's portables. Slacker automatically pushes a customer's personalized streams via Wi-Fi directly to the portable devices for storage. The players will refresh their content automatically when connected to any Wi-Fi network, including hot spots. The players will also be shipped with cached stations for out-of-the-box playback.
Slacker also plans a car kit with car-top antenna that enables a docked portable to receive free automatic updates in the continental United States via Ku-band satellite transponders leased by the company. Users of the free and premium services will be able to get the free updates from the satellite transponders, which will push a new song to a player about every 10 seconds for about 10,000 new songs per day. The kit is due sometime in the second half at an unannounced price.
The players also store MP3 and protected and unprotected WMA songs transferred from a PC. The devices are compatible with authorized WMA subscription-download sites as well.
Slacker's free service is already up and running at slacker.com, and the $7.50/month commercial-free premium service will launch in late June. The portables will be sold on the company's Web site by late June, but the company is also looking for retail distribution.
Both Slacker services offer "millions of tracks" organized by up to 100 stations programmed by genre and more than 10,000 stations organized by artist. Users gradually personalize each station by clicking on a "love it" or "ban it" button while listening to a particular song. The user's station then automatically refreshes itself with songs more to the user's liking.
The free service comes with commercials and ability to skip up to six songs per hour per station, per licensing agreements with the music industry. The premium service, on the other hand, lacks commercials, allows unlimited skipping, and lets users save individual songs for anytime playback on a PC or portable device as long as the user's subscription is paid up.
The portable devices will be Slacker-branded and will include flash-memory and hard-disk models priced from $149 to $229. The $149 model will use flash memory.
Later in the second half, Slacker will offer music downloads in protected-WMA format at $1 a song. These songs will have more liberal usage rules, including allowances for sharing on additional PCs and burning songs to CD.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.