XM Unveils Handheld Satellite Radio Receiver; iPod-like Customers a Target

As Apple fans focused Tuesday on the announcement of two new iPod models, XM Satellite Radio and radio manufacturer Delphi quietly introduced a portable, handheld satellite radio receiver with TiVo-like recording capabilities the companies hope will lure consumers away from portable MP3 music devices.

The Delphi XM MyFi (see photo below) is a handheld device slightly larger (4.5" H x 2.8" W x 1.2" D versus 4.1" H x 2.4 W x 0.57" D) and heavier (7.3 ounces versus 5.6 ounces) than Appleis 20 gigabyte, fourth-generation iPod.

While not able to download and play MP3 music files like an iPod, the MyFi is unique in its own way, no other device can claim - its ability to receive and play more than 130 digital music channels on-the-go and record five hours of programming from any of its channels. The MyFi features an integrated rechargeable battery, illuminated six-line LCD display, up to 30 channel presets, a programmable stock ticker and sports scores ticker, a built-in wireless FM transmitter, and a built-in alarm clock.

The device records programming on a 128 megabyte flash-memory card that is not removable, The Mac Observer was told Wednesday by a representative of Delphi Electronics, which manufactures the device. While the device will often still need line-of-sight to receive programming, product designers have created a unique antenna system to receive programming in almost any environment. In many U.S. markets, XM broadcasts over terrestrial antennas in addition to satellite, making programming more accessible.

The US$350 radio, which will be available in early December, will ship with headphones, a remote control and come with kits to adapt it for home and car use. XM has more than 130 channels and 2.5 million subscribers, who pay $9.99 a month for programming, much of it commerial-free.

The Dephi XM MyFi, capable of listening to more than 130 XM channels and recording 5 hours of programming, will retail for $349.99.

An iPod alternative for many?

Industry analysts say the MyFi is a primary example of a different type of portable music device that will offer Americans an option over iPod-like devices and appeal to those who prefer to have a service choose their music instead of having to burn their own CDs or download music to MP3 players.

"Not everyone wants an iPod," Ben Pitt, a consumer-electronics industry analyst based in Tucson, told The Mac Observer. "The buzz among electronics experts who watch this industry is that a device like MyFi could steal portable MP3 player customers. Why? Many people just donit want to hassle with downloading and saving and learning a personal computer to get their music."

While admitting its easier to do all that on a Mac with an iPod, Mr. Pitt said, "some people just donit want to hassle with it. Period."

How many people might sway toward MyFi instead of an iPod? Mr. Pitt believes the numbers are more than you might think.

"A survey I recently saw of savvy electronics customers at a major retailer showed of those who were strongly leaning towards buying an Apple iPod, 60% were also considering a satellite radio product from either XM or Sirius Satellite Radio. Of that number, 37% were considering buying both."

Mr. Pitt also cautioned that the survey was taken before Delphi and XM announced the handheld satellite radio device. "Now, I think that number could be even stronger," he said.

The MyFi is the latest entry in the highly competitive battle over digital music that pits XM and Sirius not only against each other, but on a broader scale against MP3 makers like Apple, Dell, Sony, RCA, iRiver and others. Until now, satellite providers only had bulky, boombox-type devices which required a line-of-sight antenna pointed into the sky at all times.

"Now their is an answer to the portability an iPod has had," Mr. Pitt said. "This is going to be a major battle. In the next year youill have to throw cellular phone makers into the mix as weill see handheld cell phones increase their capacity to play music. Portable MP3 players. Portable satellite players. Cellular phones. Itis going to be an interesting battle."