Pocket PC gets Net radio tuner

Question: How do you turn a $1100 Pocket PC with a $300 wireless modem into a $US9.95 transistor radio?

Answer: Download a new, free MP3 streaming radio player from Live365.com, a Web site that offers more than 35,000 Net radio stations from around the globe.

With its Player 365, the start-up claims it is the first to offer a truly portable streaming MP3 player. And while you might not go out and buy a Pocket PC so you can play mobile music, you might enjoy having access to such a variety tunes if you're in the market for or already have a personal digital assistant.

"This is one of the first steps towards making Internet radio portable," says Alan Wallace, senior vice president of communications for Live365.

Several portable MP3 players are available, such as the Rio from SonicBlue, TreoPlayer's Digital Music Jukebox, and Creative Nomad Jukebox. But they play MP3s from local storage, not streaming. Sony has developed a mobile phone handset that plays MP3s, but from Memory Sticks, and the unit is still sold only in Japan.

Pocket PCs only need apply

The 275KB program works only on Pocket PCs, such as the Hewlett-Packard Jornada 540 series, Compaq IPaq 3x35 series, and the Casio Cassiopeia E and EM series. It doesn't support Palm Inc. devices or Handspring Inc. Visors. Wallace says constraints in the Palm operating system prevent the program from running on those PDAs for now.

Another built-in constraint is bandwidth; speed definitely affects reception of some streaming signals. So does Internet congestion and your location.

Pocket PCs remain a minority of PDAs sold, says Kenneth Smiley, senior analyst for Internet appliances and handheld computers at Giga Information Group. He estimates Pocket PCs account for 1.5 million to 2 million units out of a total 10 million to 12 million PDAs worldwide.

But free or cheap entertainment programs are gaining favour among PDA users, he notes. For example, one of the most popular Pocket PC applications on the market is Dashboard, a $US13 program from SnoopSoft that lets you create a personalised "skin" to make your handheld's screen resemble a Macintosh, Windows, or even a Palm system--just for fun.

More choices from space

Original Internet music and streaming entertainment content in particular is growing, analysts note.

For example, two companies are readying competing services that use satellites to deliver ad-free channels of music, sports, news, talk, and other entertainment programs. To receive the signals, you'll have to buy special radios and pay access fees of about $US9.95 monthly. Both Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio Holdings expect to launch services this year.

Ryan Jones, media and entertainment analyst for The Yankee Group, says streaming radio players may be both good news and bad news.

"The streaming technology has recently become mature over terrestrial networks, but I don't think we are quite there yet for quality of service levels in the wireless area," he says. "Also, how many IPaqs and Pocket PC platforms are out there?"

Advertisers may be eager to reach those customers, however, Jones adds.

"It's extremely exciting for advertisers," he says. "You can get everything good that the Internet portends, like targeted advertising and affluent users, without the bad things, like being stuck at your desk looking at a 15-inch Sony monitor."

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