Latest WiFi speaker to assault home radio … wait, it IS a radio

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 12:40pm

This is the season of wireless speakers. We have written recently about the Samsung Shape, the Bose SoundTouch, and the Sonos Play:1. Each one of these WiFi-enabled speakers can stream a music collection from a computer, and access whatever online music services are bundled into the controller apps. This product category clearly seeks to displace home radio receivers, just as online music services potentially bite into AM/FM listening generally.

A new, soon-to-be-released product from Revo, a Scottish audio device company founded in 2004, modifies that trend with a tabletop unit which combines over-the-air broadcast with Internet radio and music-service streaming. Mightily called the SuperConnect, it is a real radio with an FM tuner (accommodating DAB and DAB+), mashed together with WiFi streaming

Uniquely, the SuperConnect has baked-in Spotify Connect compatibility. Spotify Connect is a wireless flinging technology similar to Google’s Chromecast. It is designed for digital speaker systems to receive a Spotify stream playing on a smartphone. The user touches a Connect icon in the Spotify app, then selects which Connect-enabled reception device (like living room speakers) will pick up the stream. As of now, SuperConnect is the only radio receiver that works with Spotify Connect.

In addition to the unprecedented bundling of FM, WiFi, and Spotify Connect, the Revo SuperConnect contains an on-screen joystick controller that encourages the user to explore the far-flung universe of radio webcasts -- becoming the latest in a history of devices attempting to install borderless radio listening in the home. In this case, that function is not the main act, but an add-on to the main category of WiFi streaming, with a pioneering implementation of Spotify Connect.

Assault on home radio continues with Sonos Play:1

Monday, October 14, 2013 - 11:25am

It has been a roiling 7 days in the Internet-enabled home speaker category. Nearly simultaneous with the launches of Samsung Shape (RAIN coverage here) and the Bose SoundTouch (RAIN coverage here), legacy WiFi-speaker company Sonos releases a low-cost addition to its lineup, the Play:1. Well, relatively low-cost. WiFi speakers comprise a premium, pricey category of consumer electronics.

Sonos is marketing the Play:1 is “Mini but Mighty.” At $199 per speaker, another tagline could be, “Economical yet Expensive.” While these app-controlled devices open up a gateway between the user’s music collection and home spaces, thereby encroaching on radio-owned territory, the price differential between the two reception technologies is daunting. The Bose SoundTouch ranges from $400 to $700 per speaker (each speaker provides mono audio in one room), and the higher-end Play:5 from Sonos is priced at $400 on Amazon. Clearly, there is a vast expanse of downside pricing to be explored, and the Play:1 is reaching into that market. 

Does it reach far enough to attract new buyers? Time will tell. Anyone considering a Play:5 or SoundTouch, but hasn’t yet pulled the trigger, might be pushed over the edge by the alluring possibility of wiring up two rooms for the same price. And there is this: when you consider the cost reduction implicit in moving from the purchased-music model of ownership to the accessed-music model, the presumed savings from unbought CDs can be transferred into wireless home audio for streaming music.

RAIN does not particularly advocate for WiFi speakers. But their very existence, and traction in the high-end market, is an indicator of how streaming audio is rewriting the personal economics of music consumption.

TuneIn on Samsung Shape: reinventing radio and consumer behavior

Monday, October 7, 2013 - 10:15am

Samsung, whose products increasingly foster the untethered lifestyle, has come out with a wireless home sound system called Shape. It is so-called because the shape of Shape is … shapely. Most reviews compare Shape to Sonos, which, while nicely shaped in its own right, similarly streams Internet radio and locally stored music throughout a home. Both systems hook into the home’s WiFi, are controlled by smartphone apps, and can multitask -- which means different rooms can hear different streams, playlists, albums, etc..

The smartphone app which serves as the remote control for Shape comes with a few services pre-installed: Pandora, Rhapsody, and TuneIn. Those selections niftily cover a wide service spectrum: Pandora for pureplay Internet radio; Rhapsody for subscription-only interactive music collection; and TuneIn for aggregated terrestrial radio stations.

That last point is the most interesting -- in a device that resembles radio, and is meant to replace the radio set as a household appliance, AM/FM is represented by a digital streaming platform.

As such, Shape (and Sonos, which also makes TuneIn easily accessible), position AM/FM in the life of a mobile-centric, lean-in consumer. Shape and Sonos are receivers of a sort, but the received medium is an Internet signal over WiFi, enabling a incongruent mix of formats: downloaded songs stored on a computer (or in Amazon’s cloud service in the case of Sonos), playlists maintained on a discovery service (Rhapsody), IP-delivered AM/FM webcasts, and -- crucially -- time-shifted radio programming (both on TuneIn).

Shape and Sonos encourage users, and force programmers, to think of consumable content as liberated from rigid delivery formats and schedules. Audio is granularized and liquified. In one RAIN household, TuneIn is used primarily to hear NPR program podcasts, detached from the original broadcast schedule. That use is gradually displacing radio sets.

Products like Shape, when paired with new content platforms like TuneIn, strive to reinvent not only technology (in this case radio), but also consumer behavior, while preserving content programming, and even improving access to it.

Spotify rolls out Connect feature for improved "whole home" experience

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 11:15am

Spotify, the leading on-demand music subscription service in the U.S., is launching Spotify Connect, a new feature that makes it easier to use and control the service on various devices around the house.

The "Connect" button now appears on the iOS app, and with it, the listener can seamlessly change the source of their Spotify music from handsets to different Wi-Fi-connected home devices (from 10 different manufacturers). It's an integration of the traditional music service with the in-home hardware systems like Sonos and the no-longer-supported-by-Logitech Squeezebox.

"It's important to note that you'll need a Premium Spotify subscription to use Connect," writes TheVerge. "That makes the feature another exclusive the company's using to try and convert free users to premium subscribers as it looks to reach profitability..."

Read more in TechCrunch here and TheVerge here.

Webcaster Songza comes to Canada; available on Sonos devices now too

Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 1:20pm

The webcast service Songza, known for its "music concierge" interface that offers playlists based on the time of day and your likely activities, launched in Canada this week. The free service is now available to Canadians on the Web, Apple and Android mobile, plus home streaming device Sonos (see below).

Though the Internet is a global marketplace, many webcast services aren't available outside their home country due to the difficulty in negotiating licensing with copyright owners around the world.

Songza worked with Canada's music licensing company Re:Sound to secure the necessary licenses to stream to a Canadian audience (an audience, by the way, with a significantly high broadband and smartphone penetration, as well as the relative lack of other streaming options).

Sonos owners (that includes those in the U.S. as well) can now access Songza on their devices, and "Songza's music concierge goes a step further so that you can choose a playlist based on rooms in your home."

By the way, Sonos has also announced availability of Amazon's new Cloud Player music storage service on the device.

Sonos adds visual improvements to iPhone, iPad, and Android tablet apps

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 12:00pm

Sonos, the wireless home music device company, has announced updates to its Controller apps for iOS and Android.

The Sonos system enablea you to play your digital music collection throughout your home, on your stereo, intercom, or home theater systems. The system is controlled remotely via apps for iOs and Android phones and tablets.

The updates are mostly visual, and make the apps more pleasing to the eye, and perhaps easier to use. For Apple's devices, the update includes support for the high-resolution Retina Display on both the iPhone 4S and New iPad (hope you've been saving your CD cover art in a good resolution!). For the Android version, the Sonos Controller for tablets is optimized for both 7" and 10" devices, and include "landscape mode."

There's more in the Sonos blog here. Photo from The Verge here.

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