Some technology luminaries have been throwing an idea around that hits very close to home for me. Jason Calacanis, Peter Rojas, Dave Winer and Michael Gartenberg have talking about creating a podcast-centric MP3 player. I think that this is an idea whose time is right for the market. Between the four of them, there is enough marketing power to get their target audience buzzing immediately. They also have the wherewithal to make it a device/service that will serve a real need.
I really think that the blogosphere (Make, boingboing, Metafilter – and obviously AOL/Weblogs, Inc.) and “podcastosphere” could drive pre-sales on day one. Retail sales are not out of the question down the road and it would certainly establish a brand that could be built into a real “mini-major” in the industry. The fact that there are so many well known names involved creates the unfair advantage that VC’s and professional angels love.
As far as the device itself, there has already been a small amount of discussion about power, and I agree that rechargeable is the only way to go. Compatibility with existing alkaline batteries is a must. I think that www.usbcell.com would fit the bill nicely. For screens, any current standard cell phone screen would work for the form factor, and if the costs can be kept low – I’d look into OLED’s. The trick is to have an always on/connected RSS-based podcatcher - exactly what my friend Russell Holliman (http://www.mobilepodcast.org/) who Dave obviously knows http://scripting.wordpress.com/2006/11/29/scripting-news-for-11292006/#comment-20579 has been working on at www.podcastready.com
This is my somewhat flippant response I made on Jason Calacanis’ blog post:
This is a lay down easy idea for you to execute and sell. I love the functionality coming from users, instead of the sellers telling us what we’re going to have to trade off. If this is more than a passing idea, I’d be happy to talk to you further about how to make it happen. I should get a pretty good report from Peter if you want to check me out. In the meantime, take a look at these sites that may be able to help shape your ideas:
1) The hardware itself is trivial - This is one of the most well known http://web.media.mit.edu/~ladyada/make/minty/index.html and MAKE is even selling a DIY kit on their site: http://store.makezine.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=MKMP3KIT. For bigger production runs you can check out the 100’s of OEM’s in the Asian pavilions at CES in January. You may know a few people who will be covering the show, so they can ask around about this.
2) Audio is inexpensive and universal, but even if the user experience isn’t there yet, video is clearly the new kid on the block. What about a HD-player for downloading HD content from kiosks in movie theaters. I think you may personally know someone who’s talked about this on his blog before. Hint: He probably likes watching basketball in high def in his own theater. Here’s a brand new site with content designed specifically for the mobile/office audience - www.alamoheightssa.com.
3) I have the Podcast preloader and automatic downloader solution ready to go: www.podcastready.com (full disclosure: I’m an investor)
4) Removable media is a must and I happen to like SD because is has relatively ubiquitous, has a small form factor and it’s cheap (my local Microcenter is selling a 2gig card for $14.99 after rebate)
5) Don’t forget Bluetooth - you’ll be slightly ahead of the technology curve that Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Toshiba haven’t gotten to yet, but also it can be used for receiving data automatically when WiFi isn’t present.
6) I like the celebrity angle, it’s certainly worked for the cell phone industry, especially the Sidekick. Between yourself, Peter, Dave, and Michael I believe that you can generate enough buzz to get your pre-sales to pay for your first production run just like you mentioned in your post. The real money comes in when you think about who wouldn’t want to get their bands music or their own podcast pre-loaded on your initial signature devices? That means sponsorship opportunities abound. I’m pretty sure you know a thing or two about advertising and corporate sponsorship so I know you’ve already thought of this as well.
7) www.crowdspirit.org - they just launched an idea crowdsourcing site to create consumer products exactly as you describe.
Google’s CEO has recently stated publicly (http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/11/technology/bc.tech.google2.reut/index.htm?postversion=2006111122) that cell phones should be free by subsidizing them with advertising. You know all about their localization initiatives, but you may have overlooked the just over $100 million they spent on an audio ad insertion company called dMarc (http://www.dmarc.net/) last year.