I have had a slotRadio well before it was released to the public and over these last 6 months tried to wrap my head around where this product fits into the way people consume music. I’ve used it myself at the gym and in the car, let friends and relatives borrow it, discussed with other tech bloggers, and prodded lots of sales floor reps for customer reactions.
With all this anecdotal evidence I’m going to bet against it. However, it may be a risky bet on my part since it may be applicable to a market or demographic I don’t at all understand. For the last three or four years I have been reading and writing about digital media players as a full time job. This may have created a myopic point of view now allowing me to see that fringe demographic of music consumers that is still a substantial enough of a market to sustain a profitable product line.
Proving my point on why I might not get it are the sources of review quotes represented on slotradio.org- Good Housekeeping says: “I have been using the slotRadio player for a few months now and have become addicted to my device.” MomAdvice seems to love the player and says “It’s quite mind blowing”. Furthermore the promotional video feels more like a late night “call now” infomercial featuring a “mom” in her late 30’s / early 40’s dancing in a hiked up skirt with her slotRadio player clipped to her faux red alligator belt. I can’t relate.
Before I get into why it will fail or why it might have a chance- ill give an overview of what the slotRadio format is all about.
How it works
This new media form factor is based around microSD cards containing a thousands of songs that are locked down to that card and can only be played by slotRadio enabled hardware. This card doesn’t function in a way that a traditional microSD card with music on it might function in a Sansa Fuze for example. This being that you cannot build playlists, shuffle, or select your song. It functions very much like Slacker or Pandora in that you listen to what they give you and skip the song forward, but not backward, if you like. SlotRadio is more of a competitor to “new radios” than it is to a typical MP3 player.
As of now there is a simple piece of hardware that will playback slotRadio cards dubbed appropriately the Sansa SlotRadio. It’s a very basic player that is comprised of an off/play switch, pause/play button, skip forward (no back), and station up/down buttons. There is only one basic screen that shows the channel you are listening to and the current song that is playing. It doesn’t get any more basic than this- anyone with hands can use the this player. Actually, it’s probably not even that discriminate- I’m sure you could get it to play without your hands by smacking it with your forehead, chewing on it, or simply knocking it off the table. Ok, you get the point.
The hardware is very robust and would easily take some spills off the kitchen table. Made of what I would guess to be a casted steel with a plastic face. Sound quality may not matter much to the targeted demographic, but it does sound very good- though I will mention again that this player has no features such as an EQ.
Other slots you can stick it in
Recently SanDisk updated the firmware on the Sansa Fuze to allow for the playback of slotRadio cards. Keep in mind that the Fuze offers no additional features- it functions exactly the same as the slotRadio player once you select the “slotRadio” menu. This menu item only shows when you have a slotRadio card inserted. My guess would be that in the future other devices such as mobile phone might support the slotRadio card.
If you purchase a Sansa slotRadio player it comes with a card with a mix of genres. Separate cards can be purchased for $40 each and contain a single genre or theme such as “R&B / Hip Hop”, “Country”, “Rock”, “Oldies”, “Work Out”, or “80’s & 90’s”. These cards contain 1000 songs and are broken down by sub-genre channels.
Why the slotRadio format’s time is limited
Just recently my local best buy pulled all of the slot media and hardware from their shelves. I spoke to a few SanDisk reps that hang out in the MP3 player section at Best Buy about the slotRadio format and asked if it was selling. At two different locations the answer was, no, it wasn’t selling. Other than the internet, the only other place I see it for sale is RadioShack. So is it a shift in retailers or the beginning of a decline? Correction: SlotRadio was never sold in Best Buy; it was SlotMusic I was confused with. It has only ever been sold brick and mortar at Radio Shack.
Here are a few thoughts on why it’s time is limited.
Real time competitors
Above I had talked about how the slotRadio format functions more like Pandora or Slacker or even Last.FM Radio. The biggest advantage of these services is that they are free/dirt cheap and are always fresh. The issue though is that you need an internet connection either constantly or temporarily. But as the smartphone convergence device revolution precedes fewer people that is not interested in a dedicated music player will be left for the slotRadio niche. Those left in that niche also have the option of turning on traditional FM radio as well as HD radio.
These competitors I found that one song flows much better to the next. On the card’s R&B / Hip Hop station I found the songs to vary greatly from one to the next. For instance it went from Kanye West to really old TLC to Earth Wind & Fire to Bow Wow to Slick Rick to early Janet Jackson. SlotRadio card would need to be more intelligent in picking the playlist.
Honestly though, I might be able to see myself purchasing a card. For instance if I was on a road trip and I happened to only bring one player (yeah right) and it was a Fuze and the gas station had some of the latest slotRadio cards at the count line- maybe I would pic
k one of if I felt my playlist I currently had was stale. But no way I would pay $40 for a card- $40 is not a price point for an impulse purchase. $20 is about that limit. Additionally, what are the chances that rest station gas station had slotRadio cards in stock?
Talking to various friends and relatives it was difficult to explain to them the concept of the slotRaido. It was difficult for MP3 veterans to understand because of the limitation such as the inability to select exactly which song you wanted to play. People relatively unfamiliar with MP3 players using mainly the radio and a CD player were confused by the fact that it was a “radio” that accepted physical media. By the time they accepted that it was some sort of radio- they were put off by the $100 price tag when they already have several radios in their homes and autos.
Granted consumers will get it eventually, but it will take massive advertising campaigns to do so. Advertising is expensive and I would question the ROI with such a small potential market.
Why the slotRadio has a chance
1,000 songs is a lot of music, roughly 75 hours of music (4.5 min per song = 4,500 min or 75 hours of music)- Considering you might use this at that’s about two weeks before you start to hear duplications- that is if you enjoy every channel and don’t skip any. Due to a wide swing of music within channels I found myself skipping a lot of tracks.
But what would happen if these cards held 10 to 100 times what they do now. Cost of storage is coming down rapidly and new formats such as SDxc pave the way for capacities up to 2TB. With that amount of music it might be much more interesting.
Sans Clip 2
The first generation clip is insanely popular because it’s good cheap tech. Rumors and the inevitability of a second generation clip with a microSD slot would put the technology in many more hands. After all SanDisk does sit at number two (though distant) behind the iPod. At the gym I see almost as many Sansa’s as I do iPods. If consumers see that they can get some fresh music easily and quickly by simply popping a card in their existing player they might just bite. I see a lot of Clips out there but I also still see a lot of e200’s out there- so updating old hardware may be key too. If any single thing would stir interest, leveraging SanDisk’s massive Sansa user base would be it.
As it stands now, there is absolutely no reason to purchase a slotRadio Player over a 2GB Sansa Fuze other than the size. If a Clip 2 came to market with a microSD slot that might be a sweet spot.
My prediction is that the slotRadio format will start to fade and won’t be found on store shelves by 2011. But like I had previously mentioned I’m not 100% confident that’s the case since this card format my appeal to a demographic I don’t understand. I may be missing something since I have lived digital media for so long. If it does see success it will be in the leverage of existing and future looking hardware.
Not sure if the demographic who have purchased a slotRadio or card is here reading this, but have you purchased one for yourself or a digital media noob? I would love to hear about it.