Slacker Portable Ships Tomorrow. What’s Next?
The promised Slacker Portable begins shipping tomorrow (albeit months delayed). Lovers of Slacker on the PC will be able to take their personalized Slacker Radio stations everywhere they go. The best part is that you don’t have to be connected to Wi-Fi to listen. The player will cache music from your stations when you are in a hotspot so you can listen to tracks in non-connected environments. The Slacker Portables range in price based on station capacity (the low end 15-station model is priced at $199). Stay tuned for our hands on and full review. Slacker continues to impress us with its innovation, both on and off the PC. We spoke to Jonathan Sasse, Slacker’s VP of marketing, to find out where the company is headed. What is on the horizon in 2008 for Slacker? If 2007 was about getting out the door for us, 2008 is about expanding. Our first portable device is on its way. We are looking at enabling additional partner devices that are access points for Slacker radio. We are looking to get in more of the portable space; it could be the mobile space or it could be aftermarket type environments. We are looking to expand the availability for consumers so you don’t have to just go to the Web site or you don’t have to just go buy a Slacker Portable device. In terms of order of operations, what do you see coming first? I think if you look at the amount of effort involved in enabling those pieces, additional Slacker Portable devices and other branded connected devices will be first. First or second generation devices that you have already seen, like that of Logitech, or additional Slacker portable devices that branch out from our existing player will be the first to come out. I think, later in 2008, you will see mobile applications of Slacker. How do you feel about HD Radio coming on the scene? We look at HD radio as an answer to satellite radio. When satellite radio came out it had more channels, better quality than FM. HD is also offering that alternative: more stations, better quality. The real differentiator for us is the personalization aspect. You aren’t necessarily picking from many genres and then listening to that, but you are listening to exactly the music you want to hear and you are skipping the content you don’t. The stations are based on your preferences and your tastes. Do you guys think Slacker will get this message across so people don’t think of it as an alternative to satellite radio? I think that is a challenge. We develop our messages around personal radio and the personal experience. “You always want to hear the content you want when you want to hear it” is one of our key messaging points. Competitors, like Pandora, have included mobile applications on carrier cell phones. How would you guys rise above the other Internet radio mobile applications? We still don’t see that model as being the right model in that it requires a connected live stream in order to listen to the service. As you go from network to network or covered areas to non covered areas or places like subways and airplanes, that constant live connection isn’t satisfactory. As we look to move into the mobile space, we look to extend the experience we are putting on our portables, which is very very smart caching of content which allows your radio station to play without being connected. I think that is critical in the mobile space, as you consume cell phone bandwidth or Wi-Fi, it still is an inferior experience and there are still many areas of consumption where it won’t work. On the mobile phone side could there be partnerships with someone like a SanDisk so the DRM is on the memory card? Could be. There are a lot of ways to go about it. But, at the end of the day, we think our solution is compelling and, when we bring the right people to the table, we will be able to implement a really compelling solution. No matter what, we are looking to move into the mobile space with the same type of Slacker experience we are offering today on the portable devices. Can you update the current Slacker Portable devices on any Wi-Fi network? “Any network that you have access to” is what we are saying. There will be ways to log in to various services and hotspots. There are a lot of portable media players that have connectivity. How do you guys do it differently? Where other people have tried and in a lot of cases have failed has been that they are trying to capitalize on a connected environment that isn’t quite there yet. So, when you hit a spotty area, your interesting content dies out. Or there are those that let you hop on to the device and find the music you like and download it. But that’s hard enough to do on a PC, let alone a small device. Our breakthrough is that we can connect to our servers, connect to the music we know you already like and get it on your device. It’s a pretty seamless experience. Do you think social networking could play a role in Slacker’s growth? I think it will. We are already in the place on the Web where people can e-mail their stations to other people and they can add those stations to their list and then put them on their portables. I am not sure we take it to the next step and have information transfered from device to device. The one piece we look at on that is that I am still going to have to go through a refresh routine to get that music. If you have totally different music, we would have to go to a connected environment and it might just be easier to connect to the Web and do it that way.