Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My Gadget Wish List: The Pandora MP3 Player

Pandora recently announced a new line of mp3 players custom designed to take advantage of Pandora's unique method of personalizing music. Until now, Pandora listeners have been limited to listening to Pandora through their PC's, but now subscribers can take their personalized radio stations along with them. The new mp3 players will feature the same interface as the web version of Pandora to enable subscribers to fine-tune their station any time they want.

The new players will sync with the Pandora service and download hundreds of songs based on customized radio stations created by the user. The user can decide which songs to keep and remove as well as which will help further fine tune their stations. All the downloaded music will be protected using Play For Sure DRM technology to enable the user to hear unlimited music while preventing unauthorized copying.

Pandora also announced a new line of subscription plans to go with the new hardware. Users can choose plans that enable limited control of downloaded tracks (songs would play in the same radio format used by the Pandora web player) or more expensive plans that give the user full control of the downloaded tunes.

Ok, so it's only wishful thinking but how cool what that be? With all of the press that the iPod gets (alright, already...we get it. It's the best mp3 player out there.) not enough attention is being placed on the other mp3 players out there. This seems especially true of the ones that are compatible with DRM technology that allow for all-you-can-eat subscription-based downloading plans. It seems the main argument comes down to buying and "owning" one-off songs vs. paying a monthly fee for the right to play any song any time you want.

For some reason, a lot of people just don't see the value in the subscription plans and would rather purchase the limited rights to a song as if they were adding it to their permanent collection of albums and CDs. As many of the people that purchase these 99 cent tracks simply fill up their mp3 player without bothering to backup (those DRM restrictions can be a pain!), they most likely don't realize that that particular file is probably not going to last anywhere near as long as those albums in their attics. File formats change, DRM technologies come and go. So unless you are burning that tune to a CD, it's just not going to last.

Maybe the subscription services just haven't found a way to set themselves apart from iTunes. You have to admit that most of the subscription service sites still feel like record stores where the streams are just a way to get you to plug down the $$ for the actual downloadable file so you can jam out AWAY from your PC. Even the sites that allow users to download files from their subscription plan onto a compatible mp3 player don't seem to be offering a very unique or attractive service. For most users, the glamour of the iPod outweighs any actual musical capabilities offered by these alternative players.

And maybe that's the thing. Obviously, the ability to play any one of over a million tunes at any time you want is damn cool. And being able to select from the vast cornucopia of modern music when filling up your mp3 player for the week is pretty damn cool as well (especially when selecting songs you'd never pay a buck for but you fall in love with nonetheless). But the companies that offer these services and the compatible players have to take it up a notch to attract the 99 cent download crowd to cross the divide.

That's why I'd like to see the Pandora MP3 player. I love Pandora. I listen to it all day long and am constantly amazed of the quality of the recommendations on each of my fine-tuned stations. And when I sit in my car, I wish I had the ability to load up Pandora and escape from the mind-numbing crap that fills the dial of commercial radio. Give me a player that loads up music I've never heard before as well as tunes it knows I like and I'll be a happy camper. What the heck are we going to do with 60gbs of hard-drive space anyway? I'd much rather let Pandora fill it up so that I can experiment all day long then leave it waiting empty for the next Radiohead album to come out.

And toss some crazy Pandora controls right on the hardware. Who needs a jog wheel when you have those big ol' thumbs up/thumbs down icons dressing the front of your player. Is there a more intuitive or simple interface than that?

I'd just like to see some of these new music sites and hardware companies experiment a bit. I'll plug down twenty or thirty bucks a month for the rest of my life if these companies would really give my mp3 player 24/7 access to the all the music in the world as well as a personal music recommendation assistant to guide me through it.


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