sub specie aeternitatis

Who needs and iPod or Zune? I Want a Net Connected Media Player

October 4, 2006

Microsoft has a new mp3 player, the Zune. People debate if it can be a real iPod killer. I don’t frankly care. The Zune, the iPod, and every other mp3 player out there are all basically the same thing: mp3 playing software attached to a storage device (flash or hard drive). True, they are an efficient solution to the problem of playing mp3’s on the go today, but I want something a little more forward thinking. After all, if Web 2.0 is all about ajax and remote applications, then shouldn’t the portable media players start moving in the same direction?

My music collection is an entirely digital conglomeration of many different types of digital audio: mp3, wav, flac, ogg, and even some older .xm .it and .nes files. Transferring files to my mp3 player does allow me to take a portion of my music with me. But since my music collection is larger than any portable player’s capacity, I can never have my entire catalouge of music at my disposal anywhere I go. If I think of something I want to listen to that isn’t on my player I plug it back into my computer and transfer it. I suppose if your music collection was small enough to fit on a portable device, then this approach is more feasible. Even with this approach, however, the media player must still be connected to the computer everytime new music is added to the user’s collection. But what if the portable media player didn’t store files, but read them remotely from a central server? Webmail is great because it allows you to check your email from any computer with net access, so why can’t the same be done with your music collection?

Yes, I realize that wireless net connections are sparse for the majority of people in the U.S, so taking a jog and expecting to have consistent net connectivity the entire way may be a bit of an impossibility right now, but it may not be so farther in the future. If you can get satellite radio in your car, why can’t you get fast enough net acess to stream your home collection? Why would you need extras gizmos and gadgets to hook your iPod up to your car stereo when you could connect to your entire library and use the actual car stereo to control playback instead of an extra device designed for non driving use? It seems to me that these companies are going about it the wrong way. I don’t need a portable hard drive to take my media with me, I need better internet access so I can access all of my media, plus any media from any other source on the internet. A player that gives me this type of freedom is one I would really interested in. Not another flashy iPod clone.

I have found a solution to hosting my music collection online, though. mp3act is an open source web application that provides a clean interface to browse and listen to your music collection from any net connection (although they do say Internet Explorer isn’t fully supported). It allows you to set up accounts and block access for anyone but yourself so you don’t get a nice little letter from the RIAA. It isn’t the complete solution I am looking for, but I think it is a great start. It will allow me to listen to my music in the computer lab, at a friend’s house, or anywhere else I am at a computer, without having to sync my iPod first. Which is very, very cool.

I think it is only a matter of time until companies start moving in this direction. And although I’m sure their methods will include extremely restrictive DRM on your own music collection, at least it might enable other more friendly options such as mp3act to be streamed to portable devices. Storage based devices may never completely go away, but if I can get more choice in how I listen to my collection in different places, then all the better.