“How do you dislodge Apple’s mighty iPod music player, and its popular iTunes music service, from their total dominance in the digital-music market? Numerous hardware companies and music services — most backed by Apple’s historic rival, Microsoft — have tried, and failed, with all sorts of approaches,” Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret report for The Wall Street Journal. “Some contenders were cheaper. Others had built-in features the iPod lacked, like FM radios. Some had more capacity, or greater battery life. Others relied on monthly subscriptions instead of per-song fees. But the public has mainly yawned, and none of these approaches has gained any traction.”
“Today, a small New York City company called MusicGremlin Inc. is rolling out a fresh approach to denting the iPod hegemony: the wireless music player. Its new $299 Gremlin portable player has built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking, so it can download songs from an accompanying subscription service directly, without requiring the use of a personal computer,” Mossberg and Boehret report. “Not only that, but Gremlin users can wirelessly exchange entire songs right from their players, legally, as long as both the sender and receiver are subscribers to the MusicGremlin Direct service, which costs $14.99 a month. This process, called ‘beaming,’ allows you to share songs with your Gremlin-toting pals, no matter where they are, without ever using a computer or a CD burner. You can even peer into other users’ Gremlins to see what they’re playing and what they’ve downloaded, and pluck any song you like from their devices, if they give you permission.”
“This first version of the Gremlin has some major rough spots, in its user interface and in its wireless behavior, that detract from the experience and can get downright annoying. The company promises to fix these, but some other limitations can’t be repaired as easily. For instance, the magic doesn’t work if you aren’t in range of a Wi-Fi network you can use. And limitations imposed on MusicGremlin by the record labels mean that you can’t share certain kinds of songs, including legally obtained MP3 files that you transfer to the Gremlin from your computer,” Mossberg and Boehret report. “Also, for $299, the Gremlin holds far less music than the $299 base model of the full-size iPod — just eight gigabytes, or 2,000 songs, versus 30 gigabytes, or 7,500 songs, for the $299 iPod. The Gremlin player is a rather plain, black, chunky-looking device with none of the visual sex appeal of the iPod… The Gremlin’s color screen is smaller than the iPod’s — two inches, versus Apple’s 2.5 inches. And, instead of Apple’s excellent scroll wheel, the Gremlin uses a clumsier five-way navigation pad, like the ones on some cellphones. The Gremlin’s volume and playback controls are on its side. Battery life is 10 hours, versus 14 hours for the similar-size iPod.”
“Despite its drawbacks, the MusicGremlin player and service are a great idea done pretty well. There’s nothing else like them in the marketplace, and they represent a fresh approach to challenging the iPod. For some people, a system that cuts out the need for a PC and allows legal sharing of songs may just be the perfect iPod alternative. But the company will have to file off the Gremlin’s rough edges if it’s to succeed,” Mossberg and Boehret report.
Much more in the full review here.
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Jupiter Research VP: Mossberg seduced by MusicGremlin when ‘it’s a concept, at best’ – June 14, 2006