By Michael Rau
July 21, 2008
Well, the new iPhone has been out for over a week now, and considering the amount of media attention it's still commanding, the reality seems to have matched the hype.
Except for a big hiccup after its launch, owing to problems connecting with the Apple servers necessary to activate the phone, the hardware seems to be as expected. There were also complaints about the availability of a 3G signal in some areas.
Not surprisingly, the real buzz hasn't been about the device itself, but rather the new App Store and all the new applications available for and usable on the device. If you've been perusing the write-ups, you've probably seen all kinds of reviews, "Top-Ten" lists, and the like.
Most of this seems to be focused on iPhone applications for social networking, gaming, and enterprise usage. But I'd like to take a minute or two to sing the praises of what I feel may be one of the coolest, as well as most overlooked possible new uses for this device.
If you've been reading this column for awhile, you probably know that I'm a huge fan of Internet radio. Now, I'm not talking about Internet streams offered up by the same old commercial stations you pick up on your AM/FM set. I'm talking about the dozens of streams available from Internet-only "stations" that have arisen in the last few years, as well as access to cutting edge college radio stations across the county, and even stations in other countries.
These operations provide access to the 95 percent of music that you'll never hear on the big corporate-owned over-the-air stations that now dominate all larger markets. The range of available genres is enormous. In addition, most are either completely or almost commercial-free, and exclude the mindless, banal chatter provided by so-called personalities, who at many times of the day, talk more than they play music.
If there's a market for this detritus, so be it. But as I've said before, I resent that I can't find an alternative when driving down the road. Yes — there's satellite radio, which runs circles around commercial radio in terms of available programming. But I also find the channels to be very sterile. And frankly, another monthly bill on top of those I already have isn't something I relish in these tight times, particularly when considering my sporadic listening habits.
Internet radio is readily available to any computer user online. I access it through iTunes, but there are other methods. I love the variety of stations and genres. I love the ease of accessibility. I love the creativity of the programming. And mostly, I love the absence of personalities.
What's really pestered me is the fact that, unless I'm prepared to set up something pretty elaborate in terms of hardware and software in my vehicle, I can't listen to Internet radio in the timeframe when I'm most likely to want to listen to radio programming, which is when I'm driving.
So a month or so ago, I got to thinking: Here you have a gizmo designed to connect to the Internet. It has a Web browser, and it's already a superior digital audio player (the iPod component). Why the heck couldn't this be configured to stream and play Internet radio stations? And if it can do that, couldn't you connect it to your car radio, like an iPod, and play Internet radio stations in your car?
I'm sure I'm not the only person thinking along the lines that the new iPhone, combined with a third-party app, will do just that, thus making it a true Internet radio receiver.
There are a couple of new iPhone applications that seem to prove that this concept is sound.
One is from AOL and is called, appropriately, AOL Radio. And while this enables streaming radio programming, it is most certainly NOT what I'm talking about. AOL Radio gives you access to the streams from CBS Radio stations, or in other words, more of the same commercial drivel I loathe.
Another is called Pandora, which essentially seems to operate as a search engine for streamed music from specific artists. It provides no comprehensive listing of available online streams, but actually seems pretty cool for what it does.
There's also an offshore firm called Radio 105 which provides apps that connect with specific individual streams.
All of these demonstrate the device's ability to play Internet radio streams, but none makes the iPhone a true Internet radio tuner
A New York Times article mentions an app called Tuner, which based on their description, performs this task just as I envision. However, when I went online to the iTunes store to check it out, it wasn't listed. I'm hoping it's just an oversight of some kind.
So now that I know it's workable, I'm just waiting for someone out there to make my dream come true. On that day, I may commit to never listening to a commercial station again. An iPhone can be my interface to all the music I love and am denied access to by big-corporate radio.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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