Slacker, the real iPod killer?

slacker.bmpSlacker is an ambitious new music service created by some industry veterans that takes aim at the iPod.

Slacker is a music player device, but it is also a music delivery service. It is path-breaking because it wants to let you take it anywhere: It will be the first service to use satellite to deliver music constantly to your device.

slackerdevice.bmpSlacker’s service is essentially a personalized Internet radio station, similar to popular services Last.fm and Pandora.

On Slacker, your “station” refreshes automatically with new music. It plays music that matches your tastes, which you determine by clicking “love it” on a song you like, and “ban it” for one you don’t like. Slacker then constantly updates the music it plays for you, finds new songs that match the bands you like, and songs from bands that are similar in style to those bands (those that have say, a similar energy level, popularity, or era; Slacker does not, however, assess “acoustic characteristics,” like Pandora does, to decide what music to send you). It reshuffles songs just like a radio station, but it feeds you newly released songs, and also other songs that match your updated tastes.

Slacker has licensed two million songs, so it has depth.

Slacker is so named because it is designed for the estimated 70 percent of people who like music, but who can’t be bothered to constantly update their playlists.

It is different from Last.fm and Pandora in other ways. You can go mobile with those services, but can play them on your device only if you’re within WiFi coverage.

The Slacker device, by contrast, is designed to be used anywhere. The device is about the size of a blackberry. So you can carry it around like you do an iPod. However, Slacker’s servers will communicate with your Slacker device constantly. It uses commercial satellites, and WiFi, refreshing your device’s drive with new songs when they are available. The communication happens every 15 seconds. If a new song found by Slacker matches your preferences, your device caches it. Then, if you do enter a place where satellites and WiFi can not reach the device, you can still listen to music from the cache. Slacker has a car dock.

This is an impressive team. Dennis Mudd, chief executive, was CEO at Musicmatch, a company he took to $70 million in revenue, and which he sold to Yahoo for $165 million. He has brought in Jim Cady as President (ex-CEO at Rio), and Jonathan Sasse as VP Marketing (ex-CEO iriver America).

The basic Slacker account will be free. A premium service of $7.50 a month lets you save tracks, and avoid ads. The hardware devices, depending on the model, will cost $149, $299 and $399. They’ll ship during the second half of the year. Slacker wants to integrate its music service within other devices, too, such as cellphones. You’ll be able to download up to 2,000 songs on the low-end device. Downloads will be $1 a track.

You can track your account on a Web player too (see image, at bottom).

The Web site will open tomorrow (Wednesday).

Based in San Diego, Slacker has raised $13.5 million in venture capital from Sevin Rosen, Austin Ventures and Mission Ventures.

Seperately, Marshall Kirpatrick points to news emerging from the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Tex.: Last.fm is developing a music video recommendation service based on the company’s Audio Scrobbler technology. More details here.

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