Slacker, a Web-based radio service, said on Friday it has started to take orders for its portable player which features free music channels personalized to the user's tastes.
The San Diego-based start-up is going up against well-established companies including Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp, XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio when the Slacker Portable Player debuts in stores in early 2008.
Although Slacker players will be able to play back music downloads like other devices, the emphasis will be on its radio-style service. Depending on the model, each player will have the capacity for 15, 25, or 40 channels of music that can be personalized online by the user.
The channels, are pre-programmed online by Slacker, and can then be stored on the device and each one can feature several hundred songs, according to Jonathan Sasse, vice president of marketing at Slacker.
The company has started taking pre-orders for the new device via its Web site and consumers will start to receive them in early December. They have a suggested retail price from $200 for the 2GB/15-station model to $300 for the 8GB/40-station model.
Sasse said the company held back from launching in stores right away in order to build consumer awareness, as the Slacker players will be positioned differently from traditional MP3 players or digital satellite radio boxes.
We expect customer acquisition to come through the free radio service and then convert them to the device from there, said Sasse.
I think that realistically, over the next three to six months, we may do around 100,000 (units) in sales, he added.
He said the players will be available in major consumer electronics stores during the first quarter of 2008.
Slacker users will be able to refresh their choice of stations via a Wi-Fi connection or through their personal computer.
The players are closely linked to the radio service available at Slacker.com, which launched in March. The service allows users to stream a wide range of music for free but restricts the number of times a user can shuffle tracks.
Slacker also has launched a premium radio service which allows users more freedom to choose preferred songs for $7.50 a month.
Slacker previously announced new licensing deals with all of the major record labels and thousands of independent record labels.
(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke; editing by Carol Bishopric)