Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
No offense to WFMU (a great independent station), but streaming to the iPhone is a non-event for a few reasons. First, the iPhone is $400, meaning that it is only available to the top tier of early adopters - in no way it is a mass medium for Internet radio. Second, it is only GPRS enabled, meaning that you can at best reliably deliver a 24Kbps stream to it. Third, it is a closed platform which has native streaming disabled. Sure, there are cracks and custom software, but Apple keeps breaking the cracks with updates, meaning that only the most dedicated otakus will have the desire to keep re-cracking and re-loading.
Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of Apple. It's just that for some reason they don't get streaming. As one of my fellow travellers pointed out, why can't we connect iTouch to an Airport Express? Why can't I click on a song name in the iTunes radio player and purchase the song from the iTunes store (something that was obvious to a company called Sonicbox in 1999!)? And why did they disable streaming on the iPhone and iTouch?
Once the iTouch and iPhone platforms open up in February, then there will be a reason to install streaming software on an iPhone or iTouch. However, even then, because of the bandwidth limit in the iPhone, it will only be useful for in-home or in-coffee-store use. Definitely useless in the car.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Friday, July 6, 2007
Bottom line: For $29.99 (online deal only), you can get a phone which doubles as an Internet radio (m510 from Samsung), but the proprietary connector prevents you from using it in your car. The LG Fusic, priced at $79.99, has the needed "dual jack" to allow both power and audio to be connected at the same time, or you can use the built in FM xmitter.
Current phones that would work in the car:
- LG Fusic: $79.99, connects to stereo via built in FM xmitter or headphone jack, separate power connection
- Samsung Upstage: $99.99, connects via stereo Bluetooth (requires stereo Bluetooth adapter for your car)
- Samsung m500: $79.99, connects via headphone jack, separate power connection
- Sanyo M1 (untested): $199.99, connects via stereo Bluetooth (requires stereo Bluetooth adaper for your car)
Phones that work for personal listening, but not for the car:
- Moto KRZR: $79.99, custom connector does not allow simultaneous connection to headphone and power
- Moto RAZR v3m: $59.99, custom connector does not allow simultaneous connection to headphone and power
- Samsung m510: $29.99, custom connector does not allow simultaneous connection to headphone and power
- Sanyo SCP-8400: $99.99, couldn't tell if the audio jack was stereo or not.
I followed up with a trip to the Cingular store, but the demo phones didn't have Internet enabled on them. Ah, well, we will find a way in a later post.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Sprint, on the other hand, gives you unlimited 3G Internet, including streaming, on the phone for just $15/month (Power Vision Access plan). Sure, that price doesn't include Sprint TV, or the other bundled content, but I didn't want that stuff. I just wanted the pure, sweet nectar of free flowing Internet. Sprint delivered. Also, since the EVDO network was just being rolled out in the major metros, the bandwidth would be the real thing.
Since I am a music lover, I purchased the Samsung SPH-A920. $149.99 with a two year contract. Similar phones available now are much cheaper (more on that in a later post.) The cool thing is that all Sprint Power Vision EVDO phones are 3GPP enabled, complete with aacPlus audio. This means that if a content provider knows their stuff, the streaming audio won't sound like it is underwater or coming from a tin-can.
Phone in hand, the next step was connecting it to the car. Since my 2002 PT Cruiser still has a cassette deck (yeah, I know...), I could use a $10 cassette adapter. However, I still needed to connect it to the phone. This is where things get tricky. I needed an adapter to go from the 2.5mm stereo/mic jack to a common 3.5mm (1/8") stereo jack. Sprint didn't carry them at the time, but luckily I was able to pick one up from the local Cingular store.
Adapter in hand, I connected the phone to the car, typed the Groove Salad url into my media player, and blammo, I had high-quality, untethered, Internet radio right in my car! The quality was even better than most XM Radio channels and I didn't have to pay an extra subscription. Listening to streaming radio drained the phone's battery, but a $30 car charger solved that problem. Very nice!
Not bad for May 2006. However, looking at my feature list for the Ideal Internet Car Radio, a couple problems remained:
- EVDO wasn't yet deployed wide enough for reliable listening over long distances.
- The phone was over $99.
- Available free content was pretty limited.
- Tuning into a radio station was pretty painful. (send yourself an SMS from the PC, or manually type in the URL. How do I text in a 'slash' again...?)
Fast forward to Summer 2007. Thanks to Sprint, EVDO now covers all major population areas and major transportation corridors. Thanks to Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, and Sanyo, aacPlus 3GPP-enabled phones are available for much lower prices. Thanks to Tuner2, there is a single point of tuning for high-quality Internet radio on the mobile phone. The content list isn't huge, but it is growing. And in the next couple of months it will grow like crazy once stations catch on to the untapped audience. Using Tuner2 mobile on my A920, today I drive around Southern California enjoying Internet radio, free and clear.
Things are looking good, but all is not sun and roses. In the next posts I will share some specifics about my LA driving tests, a long-distance drive through farm country, share a longer list of compatible phones, and talk about some issues you may encounter connecting the phones to your car.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Worked OK, but the range sucked!
Sprint and Verizon 1xRTT data cards soon arrived on the scene. Those had better range, of course, but the data hand-off was miserable, so driving down the road didn't work so well. Also, who wants to futz with a laptop on the passenger seat?
Smart phones arrived, but they are not a true mass market device and are notoriously short on standards-based multimedia features. Windows Media may be fine for the PC (for some), but stream it over a wireless network and it not only sounds bad, but cannot maintain a reliable stream.
So, now that I have ranted on what doesn't work, let's talk about what will work. The features of the Ideal Internet Car Radio are:
- Receiver device is an off the shelf, consumer device ($99 or less when purchased with a plan)
- Device supports standards-based mobile streaming (3GPP) out of the box
- Device comes with a low-cost, unlimited, 3G data plan
- Can access free radio (without additional subscription) from anywhere on the net.
- Can connect to the car audio.
- Can connect to car power *while* audio is connected (don't want to drain the battery!)
- Works reliably for long times & distances (can commute without significant hiccups)
- Does not need a special antenna.
This list quickly eliminates a lot of hyped stuff. Slacker fails, iPhone fails, Sansa Connect fails, and anything that only supports WMA or MP3 streaming fails.
The good news is that the list is now satisfied by a number of phones from open-minded carriers like Sprint and AT&T/Cingular. I have conducted experiments using these phones and the results are pretty amazing. More on that soon.