| Main |

The Zune killer?

Sandisk_connect The Consumer Electronics Show is my favorite trade show, in part because it's all about potential. The devices announced typically aren't ready for the market, and may never actually get released. So they're in a pure state -- all promise, no reality. Having said that, my favorite item so far at this year’s show is the SanDisk Connect, a device that promises to do several things that the Microsoft Zune should be doing but, inexplicably, isn't.

The 4 GB flash-based Connect is Wi-Fi enabled, like the Zune, but in a much more meaningful way. The Zune uses Wi-Fi to let owners link to each other and (temporarily) share songs (the copies lock up after three days or three plays). The sharing is one-way only: I can send you a song, but you can't search my Zune to find something you might like to copy. The Connect, on the other hand, lets you log into selected online music and photo services to download and play music or photos. You can also send recommendations for songs or photos to your pals.

Fabulous concept! The Connect moves the ball significantly closer to the goal of enabling music fans to hear anything they want from a massive library of songs, wherever they happen to be. Alas, there are some hitches. SanDisk hasn’t announced yet which online music service (or services) its player will support, although it says its technology partner (Zing) works with a variety of Microsoft-based providers. The possibilities include Rhapsody (which already works closely with SanDisk), Napster and Yahoo. If the player (about $250, due in March) doesn’t support your favorite service, well, sorry! More significantly, the company says the service relies on open (i.e., not encrypted) Wi-Fi connections. That rules out Starbucks, most airports and other commercial Internet access points, not to mention home networks run by people who don’t want to be snooped on. The shortage of open Wi-Fi networks is one reason Microsoft says it limited the Zune to device-to-device connections, rather than letting it connect to the Net. I’m hoping this is a version 1.0 issue, and that SanDisk finds a way to let Connect users log into secure Wi-Fi access points. Otherwise, it’s likely to be just another in the long line of products that promise more than they can deliver.

Addendum: I spoke with Jon McCormack, vp of software for Zing, and he said the Connect devices will have to download tracks to play them, rather than just streaming them from an online server -- at least at first. The unit will, however, be able to tune in online radio streams. Not sure what this means for, say, a Napster or Rhapsody playlist, but I'm guessing the answer there is that you'd have to download all the tracks before playing them. McCormack also said Zing is working with Wi-Fi aggregators on deals to give Connect users access to secured Wi-Fi services. But he's bullish -- far more than I am -- on the prospects for the Internet community at large supplying open access points.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Zune killer?:


The comments to this entry are closed.

Our Blogger
Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

Search this blog

Subscribe to this Blog - What is RSS?

Now Playing

Where I've Been Lately