Friday, February 10, 2006

Microsoft's "Smart Car Radio" - a Radio Tivo?

There's not much info there yet, but here's a fascinating* Endgadget story about how Microsoft has just been granted a patent (applied for in 2002) for what's called a "smart car radio". In other words, it'd be a "Radio TiVo" for your car or computer that would allow you - quoting Endgadget - "to record music and filter out 'undesirable audio content (e.g., advertisements and unwanted news).'" As a huge fan of "Radio TiVo"-type technology - the Radio Shark, Radio YourWay and RadioTime are all out there already, at varying levels of coolness - I am excited about this thing, though worried about the Microsoftization of this incredibly important innovation for my fave medium.

What's interesting here is that a TV TiVo don't exactly "filter out" TV ads - they allow you to fast-forward past them, sure, but the big TV business doesn't let TiVo install a simple method to completely "edit out" commercials (though there are workarounds for some of the older models that'll help you jump past 'em in 30 second increments). If Microsoft's Smart Car Radio lets you zip past ads... what's the ad-based radio industry gonna do?

When I first got a TiVo in 2000, I was blown away. The best way I found to describe it is in terms of grades: it transforms a C+ medium (the vast wasteland that's still firmly in place) into an A- medium. In other words, by finding and then recording great shows, the kind of stuff I (or you) want to watch, a TiVo takes out the time-wasting/brain-deadening quality that much of the electronic media has had since the beginning. A TiVo, if you use it well, gives you the good stuff, as you define what "the good stuff" is. A Radio TiVo would do the same, I think, I hope. Unless Microsoft finds a way to completely ruin the concept.

A big part of why I've become such a Sirius enthusiast is because the model I have, the Starmate Replay, records up to 44 minutes of whatever channel you're listening to. Do I want to hear a cool/bizarro BBC Radio One song again? I rewind and replay. Did Howard really say that? I rewind and replay. And, if I'm a few minutes or more behind what's "live" (admittedly a hard concept to grasp until you actually start using this stuff), I can zip past the commercials on those stations that have 'em. Post-Sirius, when I now listen to "regular" radio, I now have that weird/frustrating experience that all TiVo owners report at some point - that desire to rewind to re-hear what you've just heard, or that desire to zoom past the commercials, or that desire to just pause the damn thing, and then you realize you can't, and you're bumming.

* to me, anyway


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