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Slacker Music Service Launches Portable Player

Rather than compete with Apple's market leading iPod, or Microsoft's Zune challenger, Slacker is trying to attract customers through a different music-listening experience.

Slacker, an Internet radio station built around customizable programming, plans to ship in December a portable player that can download tunes from the Web site over a Wi-Fi or wired connection.

The Slacker player, made by Inventec, streams music from the Internet at no charge, if the user is willing to also receive ads.

Simply called the Slacker Portable Player, the device is unique in that it's tied to a service that doesn't sell individual songs or albums, but rather streams music at no charge, if the user is willing to also receive ads. A premium version with out ads and added features is available for $7.50 a month.

Slacker is taking pre-orders for the player, which is set to ship Dec. 13.

Slacker, which topped a million users in October, offers an extensive music catalog, which is divided into 100 categories that the site calls stations. Users choose the categories, and decide on the artists they want to hear. The Web application has the ability to learn from the choices, and add new music based on the user's taste. Subscribers can also choose to only listen to the artists they pick.

In building their own "stations," people who buy the player will be able to choose the customized stations they want downloaded to the device next time it's online. When accessing the Internet, the player goes directly to the Slacker site to download the latest picks.

The player connects over Wi-Fi, or through a wired connection via a Windows or Mac computer. The only software needed on the computer is a utility that directs the player straight to the Internet. There is no software interface, such as the one Apple uses with iTunes.

The player comes with a four-inch screen for displaying artist bios and album art and a touch-screen scrollbar. The device also can play MP3 and WMA music files downloaded separately from a computer. The player comes in three sizes, 2Gbytes, 4Gbytes and 8Gbytes for $200, $250 and $300, respectively; and has a battery life of 10 hours.

Rather than compete with Apple's market leading iPod, or Microsoft's Zune challenger, Slacker is trying to attract customers through a different music-listening experience. "It's entertainment at the push of a button, rather than downloading separate music files and managing play lists," Jonathan Sasse, VP of marketing, told InformationWeek Thursday.

With the player, which was designed by Slacker and built by Taiwanese manufacturer Inventec, Slacker is hoping subscribers will want to pay for the hardware to take the service with them on the street. Given the features of the service and the device, and the fact that the music can be accessed at no charge, Slacker believes the pricing of the player is fair. "When you start adding Wi-Fi and four-inch displays to a device, the price point is going to go up," Sasse said.

Because the player is Internet enabled, Slacker has the option of pushing updates to the software, which in the future could include support for video. "It's something we're very interested in," Sasse said. But before that can happen, Slacker would have to build a video service comparable in performance and simplicity of the radio service.

Slacker is not the only Internet radio site. Others offering streaming tunes include Pandora,, TagWorld, and LAUNCHcast.

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