MusicGremlin’s Wi-Fi music player a challenge to Apple’s iPod?

“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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Related articles:
Jupiter Research VP: Mossberg seduced by MusicGremlin when ‘it’s a concept, at best’ – June 14, 2006

31 Comments

  1. Black brick anyone?
    The only feature I think would work for me would be the Wi-Fi, but only if Steve Jobs did it for me. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”raspberry” style=”border:0;” /> Like iPod will have some form of this feature(they even have a patient)

    Does anyone think the new full iPod will come at WWDC in August?

  2. Wow, Walt is pretty enthused about this product. I, however, am not. Although, this player does have some nice ideas, but it hasn’t done too well implementing them yet.

    Being able to share songs with others is a pretty useless feature considering you can just get those songs for free yourself. Nonetheless, I think this idea of be able to be apart of a community by sharing songs and info is going to be very popular. It’s just ready yet.

    WiFi is great, but that also isn’t ready to be useful quite yet. Some improvements that would be nice for Apple to implement with WiFi:

    – sync data with .mac account
    – stream podcasts directly to player
    – some type of messaging ability to communicate with other players
    – stream internet radio

    Now, the internet radio is something that I think could be big. Not only does it provide you with an unlimited amount of new music at decent quality, but it’s free too.

    It’s nice to see a competitor bring some good ideas to the table, but this player is far from having a refined product that can compete with the iPod. At least other companies are thinking.

  3. Before I read the article, I’m thinking, “Look. Another iPod kiler. I wonder how they will work in a monthly subscription on this piece of junk”. And, lo and behold, a $14.99 monthly fee to wi-fi your music. Nice.

    When are they going to get it? I won’t rent my music. Ever. How much clearer could I possibly be? And yet, just about every competitor to the iPod has some kind of music subscription service attached to it. Gawd, what freekin morons!

    I’m not alone in this feeling. I don’t know ANYBODY who rents music. Even the people I know who don’t use iPods fill their players with MP3s encoded from their CDs or downloaded illegally.

    The music subscription model is the white elephant in the middle of the room. It’s great for the content providers but it sucks for the consumer. And they know it. That’s why it is rolled out again and again in ever prettier packages.

    OTOH, I’m not eager to see Apple fall from top. It would just be nice if somewhere, someone – anyone – could see the light.

  4. Montex,
    “When are they going to get it? I won’t rent my music. Ever. How much clearer could I possibly be?”

    – Um, did you notice that you actually get a choice? You can subscribe to the monthly service, or you can buy the songs for $.99, or you can do both.

  5. In the interest of fairness, let’s apply some of the same whiney questions (some legit, some bogus) that are typically asked of the iPod/Apple, to this, this…thing.

    1. Does it scratch easily?
    2. Is the battery user replaceable?
    3. Does it come with a case with a clip or do I need to support a third party MusicGremlin ecosystem just so I can carry the thing without dropping it?
    4. Is there/will there be a MusicGremlin ecosystem? 😀
    5. How many years will the battery last and what does it cost to get it replaced?
    6. What is the warranty? is there a Protection Plan for an additional year of coverage? How much is it?
    7. What is the bitrate? Does “2000 songs” really translate to “1000 songs crappily encoded using 64mbps”? Is it also based on an average 4 minute song length?
    8. Where is the Mac version?
    9. Does it come with a USB cable for data transfer as a backup or is that a separate purchase?
    10. Does it come with a wall charger or is that a separate purchase?
    11. What is MusicGremlin’s supplier code of conduct? Is MusicGremlin committed to ensuring that working conditions in their supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible?

    Add more… 😀

  6. Realist
    – Um, did you notice that you actually get a choice? You can subscribe to the monthly service, or you can buy the songs for $.99, or you can do both.

    Yes, I saw that. But wouldn’t the point of buying a wi-fi player be to use the wi-fi? On this player you can’t use the wi-fi without the subscription. THAT’S THE CATCH!

    Without the wi-fi you just have another mediocre mp3 player. Nobody is going to buy this thing unless they intend to use the wi-fi. So it’s doomed to fail, IMHO.

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