Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Backlash! 10,000 channels of crap and only 1 button

Seven years after "AM, FM, iM," Internet radio devices are finally becoming mainstream. Broadband is ubiquitous, cheap, and reliable. WiFi is everywhere. And the bill of materials has reached the sub-$20 mark.

However, all is not well. These devices all seem to promote the fact that you can get "10,000+ stations." While 10,000 stations (and even more if you like) might be good thing on a PC, it is a disaster on a dedicated radio. The reality is that most of those 10,000 stations are just crap. Random playlists, police scanners, and other assorted flotsam. Finding the good among the bad and the ugly takes some work.

If users get frustrated on devices with a remote and multi-line displays like a Noxon, imagine the backlash when the users have only 1 or two buttons to navigate the infinite recursions of dubious "stations" presented by services like vTuner.

On the infinite dial, the value of the editor becomes more and more critical. Tuner2 inherits a philosophy started by Sonicbox back in 1999. Hand pick a selection of top stations, monitor them for reliability, and constantly weed out the bad ones. Couple that kind of tuning service with the ability to add stations that users discover on their own, and you have a winning approach which can easily be navigated by a couple buttons.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Streaming to iPhone - Who Cares?

On November 5th, WFMU claims to have rocked the world by streaming their radio station to the iPhone. All I have to say is "Who Cares?"

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.