Radio On The iPhone/iPod Touch

I just lost two days of my life to Slacker Radio.

Actually, the story starts earlier, with I Heart Radio.

No, it starts before that with that labyrinth app, that Gwen Lewi showed me.

I think it was Gwen.  I was over at her papa’s house, Jim Lewi, agent extraordinaire at the Agency Group, and I asked to see her iPhone.  Jim had told me she’d saved her own money to buy it.  I wanted to see what apps she had on it.  She had that lighter, that you hold up instead of your BIC at concerts.  And she also had this labyrinth.  You know, like the old wooden games, where you tilt the playing field so the ball doesn’t fall through.

I thought it was cute.  That an eleven year old was on the cutting edge.  But kids need the latest thing, the fact that you pay an extra thirty dollars a month for data is incomprehensible to them.  They need an iPhone the way we needed Cocoa Puffs.  And they’ll do anything to get one, the same way contestants on "American Idol" will do anything to make it.

Late last week, with an hour before I turned out the light, with  my TV on the fritz and having just finished my book about Mad River Glen, I got an inspiration to download the labyrinth app to my iPod Touch.  A device that I thought was fully useless when I got it as a gift fourteen months ago but that is now an integral part of my life.  Primarily because of the Sonos functionality.  I’d say the Sonos system was almost non-functional, because of the tiresome effort required to use the gargantuan remote, but the iPhone/Touch app greased the skids, it was like waxing your skis, now I couldn’t wait to come home and fire up my Sonos system.

Anyway, there’s a pay and a free labyrinth app.  I downloaded the free.  I didn’t want to become addicted, I just wanted to experiment.  The graphics were so realistic, and when you plug in the headphones the sound is astounding.  And it became clear that this is the gaming platform of the future. So I’m waiting for my plane in Eagle, with time to kill.  I can see whipping out my iPod Touch to play a few games.  Yes, I travel with the Touch, so I can surf the Web in bed.

And I was lying in bed earlier this week when I downloaded I Heart Radio.

The inspiration?

I got an e-mail that mentioned the app.  I had no idea what it was.  But then Daniel Glass, in a phone call nailing down CMW plans, told me his young son Liam was addicted.  Then Marc Reiter told me his daughter Sophie used it all the time, even though he wasn’t sure exactly what it was.

You can download the apps directly on the Touch.  And they come down in a matter of seconds.  And then…

I Heart Radio allowed you to listen to commercial radio stations all over America.  You just dialed in the city and then picked from the broadcasters. Very cool if it’s 1966, but who wants to listen to Clear Channel, with all its commercials and phony programming, in the twenty first century?

The stations come in perfectly.  The sound is great.  Only the content is bad.

Then I remembered that Slacker had created an app.

I’ve had a Slacker radio on my table for months.  It’s just too much effort to power it up, update the stations…  Like I need another new device?

So I downloaded the app.

And there were built-in stations.  And I could create my own stations.  And I could customize them, telling the service whether I wanted "Hits", "Fringe", "Deep"…  And I create a Steve Winwood station, you can create as many as you want, and I hear a song from his new album that sounds so good.  That’s the power of radio.  "I’m Not Drowning" didn’t make a big impact on me when I played the CD, but when I heard it on my Touch, doing my back exercises on my bedroom floor, I was enraptured!

Then I discovered this great cut on the folk channel.  By an act I’d never heard of before.  Entitled "Apache Motel".  By this gay woman from Massachusetts, Erica Wheeler.  Brought me right back to my New England roots, made me want to go back home immediately.  To where it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the hit parade, but whether you’re good, whether you touch people’s hearts.

Then there was that song by Eric Bibb, "Tall Cotton".  Kind of like a Taj Mahal track, like Keb’ Mo’ when he gets it right.

I’m discovering new music!

But hearing a ton of crap.

You can only skip six times an hour on each station, which is oftentimes not enough, so I contacted Slacker and they unlocked my account and I can fast-forward to my heart’s content.  ($3.99 a month.)

Now what’s the difference between Slacker and Pandora?

Well, I downloaded Pandora too.  Every radio app.  AOL, Shoutcast, Public Radio…  Actually, the Public Radio app cracked me up.  You can listen to all the NPR stations in the U.S.  So, I dial up Alaska, where they’re going on about the natives…fascinating!

AOL…  I don’t see what their future is.

Pandora…  Their app is simpler than Slacker’s.  But it’s more efficient.  If you skip a track, the next one comes up right away.  You’ve got to wait for the buffer to load with Slacker.  Slacker’s got more info, but you want the music more than info.  But the bottom line, to my perception, is that when you create your own station, you hear a lot of stuff you don’t want to.  That’s what Pandora is, suggestions based on your desires.  Slacker has the same problem on listener-created stations.  I like Jackson Browne and…Journey?  But on the Slacker-created stations, the programming can be quite excellent.  It’s like satellite radio without the satellites.  Programming hand-built by experts.

But I’m at the beginning of the learning curve.  And you need to be too.  You need to get an iPod Touch immediately.  Or switch to AT&T and get an iPhone.  Because I have seen the future, and it is not Bruce Springsteen, but the App Store.  This is as big as the computer revolution of the eighties.  This is just about as big as the Internet revolution of the nineties, spearheaded by AOL adoption in 1995.

And Apple is the new AOL.  But with even more power.  The Web killed AOL’s closed garden.  But it’s Apple’s closed garden that is dominant now, and will be for quite a while, if not forever.  They’ve got the store, they’ve got the development.  Rumor today is Dell is going to offer a smartphone. But it’s not about hardware, but software.  The Google Android app offerings are miniscule, and without critical mass, development is not only stifled, people flock to Apple, to interact with their friends.  As for Palm’s Pre…  If it doesn’t get sued out of existence, the lack of development will hamstring it.

Voice is almost irrelevant.  You communicate with data.  Not only information, but location.  And the apps are all not toys, some truly aid your business.

I own no Apple stock, I get no kickback.  I’m just giving you a heads-up.  Unless you buy one of these devices immediately, and install a ton of apps, you are being left behind.

If radio’s got a future, it might just be on the iPhone/Touch.  Check it out.  Tell me if you don’t agree.

Steve Winwood "I’m Not Drowning"

Erica Wheeler "Apache Motel"

Eric Bibb "Tall Cotton": Unfindable online.  That’s why all your music must be streamable for free, so fans can spread the word!

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