Consumer electronics devices must have buttons!   -   May 11, 2006

You've probably heard the term 'Internet Radio'. However, chances are if you've listened to Internet Radio it was on a PC using software such as winamp, iTunes, or MusicMatch. However, when most of us listen to radio, it's through a device sitting on a shelf in the living room. When will Internet Radio hit the mainstream and what devices will lead us there?

For about the last year I've listended to most of my music on XM Satellite radio. It started because my car came with XM installed, and I decided I liked it enough to buy the home player as well. However, a year later I find the music on the stations stagnant and the selection scant. I also miss the personality of real radio (although I don't miss the commercials!) I decided I might get better selection without the XM monthly fees by installing an Internet Radio device in my living room, so my search began.

I've been pretty happy with the form and function of the XM skyfi2. I never use the remote. The only time I touch the device is to selection stations, and usually with the dial. I'm looking for something similar for Internet Radio. Some searches quickly turned up the major Internet Radio contenders: Squeezebox, Roku Soundbridge, netgear digital music player, SMC Easystream , and the fancy dlink media player. I quickly realized that all of these devices would also allow me to play my own audio off a home PC as well. Bonus. However, reading on and on I found one conspicious omission. Device after device; review after review; these devices are missing one critical feature, buttons!

Like most cheap consumer electronics, each device comes with a cheap mediocre IR remote. Which is fine except that most of these devices top $250. However, the only device I remote control is my Tivo. Everything else I operate directly. Decades of consumer electronics devices understand this use case. Why did these 'Internet Radio' companies miss the mark? The squeezebox has an extensive array of control options, including the Sony PSP, some mobile phones, and fancy PDAs. What was so hard about putting a couple channel change buttons on the device itself?

Looking a little deeper turned up devices which I would describe as "Internet Clock Radios". I call them this because while they do have buttons, they also have speakers and are designed to be used standalone. For example, the Macsense MP-100, and Phillips MCi200. Don't be fooled into thinking these are cheap devices, however. The most expensive of which is the $400 Roku R1000, complete with snooze button.

It seems there are at least a few product like this which never made it to market, including the Kerbango, and iAplayer.

The most helpful page I found is the live365 shopping page. While it also confirmed the lack of the device I'd like to have, it alerted me to an exciting and little known fact -- because my Tivo is connected to broadband I can already listen to Internet Radio on it! I grabbed my Tivo remote an in a few moments I was surfing jpop, 80s, and funky r&b.

I'm still searching for my Internet Radio device with buttons, but until then at least my TiVO remote remains king in the living room.

Posted by jeske at May 11, 2006 1:04 PM