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Wi-Fi MP3 Player Targeted To Time-Starved

MusicGremlin and licensee RCA plan to unveil the first MP3 players designed for time-starved consumers who could use it to download music directly from an authorized download site without sitting in front of a PC.

Consumers would use the MP3 players’ built-in Wi-Fi to connect directly to MusicGremlin’s download service through wireless Wi-Fi networks in the home, office or public hot spots. While outside Wi-Fi network range, consumers would still be able to browse the company’s catalog of more than 2 million WMA-formatted songs from a player’s embedded database. The player would automatically download the selected songs once it’s back in Wi-Fi range.

Direct downloads to portable devices eliminate the often time-consuming chore of transferring songs from the PC to a portable device, said John Axelrod, co-founder and co-CEO of the New York company. The chore can be time-consuming, he explained, because WMA-compatible portables and WMA download sites aren’t “tightly integrated,” he explained. “It’s hard to transfer WMA music from other sites.”

MusicGremlin plans first-quarter sales of its first two models through its Web site, after which it will roll out the products on a limited-distribution basis to select retail channels, the company said. Licensee RCA plans to show its Lyra MusicGremlin at International CES but didn’t announce a ship date at press time. MusicGremlin is searching for additional branded suppliers to adopt its production-ready hardware/software reference design, the company added.

MusicGremlin’s two models will come in 4GB and 8GB HDD versions at prices “under $400,” the company said without getting specific. RCA didn’t announce a price at press time.

Devices using the reference design will “make digital music easier by doing everything from one device and getting music on the go,” Axelrod said.

Also to appeal to time-starved consumers, MusicGremlin’s service will push “hot-song playlists,” including the songs, to users of MusicGremlin’s subscription service, which lets subscribers download as many of the service’s songs as they want for a monthly fee. Once the subscription expires, the songs do, too. Subscribers will also be able to select playlists for downloading.

Non-subscribers can download playlist metadata and then pay to download the songs in them. A la carte downloads cost 99 cents per song; a monthly subscription price hasn’t been determined.

People who pay per download will get the same usage rights as users of other PC-based WMA download sites, Axelrod said. That includes the ability to transfer the songs to several PCs and to burn songs to CD as wave files.

Subscribers also get another bonus: the ability to share songs with other subscribers over the Internet and via a Gremlin-to-Gremlin transfer via 802.11b.

Although Gremlin devices cut the PC cord, they’re not necessarily targeted to PC-phobic consumers, Axelrod said. “A lot of people using us will be quite comfortable with PCs.” In fact, songs can be transferred from a PC to the devices, and vice versa, through a USB connection.

For people interested in cutting the PC cord, however, MusicGremlin-branded products incorporate WMA and MP3 encoders, enabling users to record directly from CD players via analog inputs.

Other features of the MusicGremlin-branded products include FM receiver and lithium ion battery that delivers about 10 hours of music-playback time.

Details of RCA’s Lyra MusicGremlin were unavailable at press time.

MusicGremlin’s download service uses download infrastructure provided by B to B company MusicNet, which put companies such as Yahoo and Virgin in the download business.