Taking music services on the go without a phone: Then and now
Nearly a decade ago, the Slacker Player pioneered the idea of using a streaming music service with an offline player. Six months after Slacker finally pulled the plug, the Mighty is ready to hit play again.
In this era of devices dependent on services, it's not unusual for products to stop working immediately once the companies that make them go under.
But a different fate awaited the Slacker Player, the cached playlist device introduced by the Slacker service in 2008. Slacker, a still-active music service that was early to bridge the worlds of free, ad-supported radio and premium subscription services, got it mostly right with its clip-brandishing Slacker G2 released before it got out of the hardware business in 2009. Despite this, it admirably allowed its devices to continue accessing the services until this January.
For years, Slacker has offered ad-free station caching to its smartphone app on iOS and Android. Why would anyone have kept the players around? For one, while users of the Slacker app had to pay a few bucks a month for ad-free caching, the Slacker Player kept right on humming along until 2014 when Slacker cut off official support for adding and removing stations (but left open a loophole).
Still, it was a great deal for offline music fans while it lasted. That was particularly true for those seeking to avoid the frequent interruptions and app management hassles inherent to today's smartphone experience as well as the traditional file-based music management of MP3 players.
Fans of the Slacker Player may not need to wait long to recreate the dedicated device experience, though, with the release of Mighty. A Kickstarter project that raised over $300,000 in early 2016, Mighty has announced that it will ship its first batch of players on June 9.
There are a few key differences between the old Slacker Player and Mighty. The former connected directly to Wi-Fi networks, and it used cached stations that were "refilled" with songs. While the device had a full-color LCD display, it did not allow individual song selection -- only skips -- as Slacker did not support Spotify-like specific song selection at the time. (Slacker added a premium tier in 2011.)
The Mighty player, though, resembles a thick iPod shuffle, is configured via an app, and syncs playlists from Spotify that must be manually developed, an experience not unlike downloading Spotify playlists to a smartphone. This allows far more choice of song selection at the expense of some effort.
And it's possible that fans of the old player may be able to obtain the best of both worlds. While Mighty works out of the gate with Spotify, the company has said it is exploring supporting other services. That's a wise move given that Spotify is rumored to be developing its own devices that could expand far beyond the purview of a portable offline player as a smartphone alternative.
The Slacker Player didn't anticipate smartphones; the Mighty is a reaction to them. And while the Slacker Player didn't launch into a world of 4G networks and widespread public Wi-Fi, the case for an offline player isn't as strong for Mighty. Of course, Mighty's developers could add cellular connectivity to a future product, which could make the device more like the never-released Pebble Core and remove the hassle of syncing.