At CES last month,
one of the biggest "aha" moments for me came when Rio showed me an update to its current Karma
, with an MMC/SD slot that'll accept a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi card.
If this Rio Karma could talk, would it ask for Wi-Fi?
The first use for a wireless MP3 player is fairly obvious: transferring music without physically connecting the player to your computer. This change is certainly convenient, but the disappearance of a single wire is hardly revolutionary. If wireless connections become common on MP3 players, the sky is (literally) the limit in terms of where your music can come from.
Since August 2003, British cell phone users have been identifying songs playing in any location by ringing up a service called Shazam
and holding their mobiles toward the speakers for 30 seconds. According to reports I've heard, the service utilizes an acoustic recognition engine that compares the signal picked up by the cell phone's microphone to Shazam's (now) 1.7-million-song database, then spits out the correct artist and song title with remarkable accuracy in an SMS message sent seconds later to your cell phone.
If MP3 players sprout cellular connections, they'll be able to mimic this trick perfectly--but there's a way it could work now using today's technology. You could hear a song you want to identify, then record a 30-second sample through the internal mike usually reserved for voice recording. When you get home, you'd sync the player to your computer, which would upload the samples to an online acoustic identification database. Instead of an SMS message with the artist and title, you get the option to purchase the song you heard earlier and download it straight to your MP3 player.
Not into waving a portable around in public to record audio samples? Perhaps you'd prefer to sample the listening station, browse the racks of any record store, and scan the bar code of desired albums into your MP3 player (via an attachment similar to the device that Symbol Technologies
used to sell for handhelds. Bypassing the cash register, you'd leave empty-handed but connect your player to your computer once you're home. After your software identified the song from the bar code, you'd download the sought-after albums or search for the lowest prices
If we add Wi-Fi to this whole scenario, things get even more interesting. Rather than waiting until you got home, imagine walking or driving within 300 feet (the range of Wi-Fi) of any record store and automatically purchasing the song you heard earlier that day. For that matter, skip the record store--a Wi-Fi hot spot could deliver the song just as easily, for less.
Following this trend to its logical conclusion, imagine setting up a wish list on your MP3 player, just as you would with P2P networks such as Soulseek
. You'd be able to add songs to the wish list by entering them on your home computer, identifying songs using acoustic identification à la Shazam, or scanning bar codes à la Symbol.
"Say, do you like Yanni?"
Imagine that you've created a wish list and are walking down the street, when suddenly you feel your MP3 player vibrate an alert. Sure enough, one of the songs you were looking for just downloaded to your player because someone walking next to you was sharing the song through their MP3 player's Wi-Fi connection. Who knows? Maybe this could lead to some sort of real-world musical Friendster
network, where compatible people would be automatically introduced if their music collections share similar artists.
If the RIAA thinks it's a tough gig monitoring every file-sharing network in the world now, just wait until millions of MP3 player users can trade songs just by ambling down the street or driving down the highway. After contemplating that scenario, perhaps the RIAA would be more likely to license content to services that are willing to cut the industry a slice of the pie before it crumbles under the weight of failed consumer expectation. I'm talking about centralized hot spots, Shazam-like services, musical Friendsters, and whatever other businesses surface around the inevitable convergence of portable music players and wireless technology. For instance, wouldn't it be nice to be able to send a message to that guy in the SUV who just cut you off and suggest that he listen to your copy of Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic