How did this even happen?

For a reasonable monthly fee, I can download almost any song I want to hear, anywhere there’s an available wireless network.

…and this product fails?  You have GOT to be kidding me.   Two questions:

How could all parties involved have failed so miserably to promote this product/service?

Where does the line for the firings begin?

It’s complicated.  There is plenty of blame to go around. 

The concept was a great one, and, in fact, it is still available.  Rhapsody offers players that do all that the Connect does - specifically. it allows you to listen to music and download on demand.   The players from Sirius satellite radio offer the same, via Rhapsody and Napster for the subscription tracks.  I, for one, love the subscription based music plan, but apparently, it is a minority opinion.   The subscription customers for Rhapsody and Napster, even after migration of the Yahoo subscribers, totals barely a million.  For Yahoo, it had been a disappointment, and never seemed able to meet even modest goals.  Further, license management associated with DRM, along with the disappointing subscription commitments, made Yahoo Music Unlimited ripe for the chopping block.  If you look at the financial performance of Rhapsody and Napster, it is far from inspiring.  This is why both companies are trying to strike alliances with cellular providers in hopes that the portable device that everyone carries - a cell phone - will boost susbscriptions and MP3 sales, as compared to a stand-alone player, like the Connect or devices offered by Rhapsody.  Getting folks to buy a service-specific player is yet another barrier to entry in a successful subscription business for them.

There are many questions about survival in the marketplace -

 - Can Napster and Rhapsody survive based on their modest subscription sales?  Will the record companies, who are now developing their own music sites for distribution, take eveyone down in the process by fragmenting the market so nobody can make it?

 - Will Sirius/XM survive long term in the face of tremendous competition from 'free" terrestrial radio, streaming Internet services, many of which are/will be available on your cell phone, and other competitive media distribution sources?  New car owners with satellite subscriptions included with the car for the first year have dismal retention rates.

 - Will the record industry wise up to the fact that people are no longer willing to pay to listen/save every piece of music they enjoy?

In short, the media infrastructure is changing rapidly, and Sansa has no blame for the fact that the content service on which the Connect was based was a victim of the dynamics of an emerging media delivery system.   It was a brilliant implementation, one which, like you, I enjoyed while it lasted.   But the convergence of media content and hardware technology is extraordinarily dynamic right now.   The Connect is a good MP3 player, even without the bonus features.  Sadly, early adopters are often disappointed when a great concept can’t support a long-term business model.  Yahoo, for once, ought to be applauded for bailing on this loser in the current incarnation.  And, you can bet that SanDisk won’t be investing development resources on devices that are a slave to any particular service again.   Chock the Connect up to being a great demonstration device with their win at CES 2007, and what lacked in sales and product longevity, perhaps they made up in the promotional value of the Sansa name.

You asked “How could all parties involved have failed so miserably to promote this product/service?”   Yahoo Music, with more visits than Napster and Rhapsody combined (by far!), promoted their subscription music service and the Connect, and it still failed the bottom line test.  Now, only two susbscription providers remain, and both offering similar services to Yahoo, aren’t making it either.  Why?  I guess you’ll have to draw your own conclusions.  I liked it, and I still like subscription music, but apparently there aren’t enough of me or you to support a business.  Hmm, maybe iTunes made a wise decision not to offer subscription music??? 

Enjoy it while it lasts, and plan to make changes to embrace the next incarnation of music delivery.  You can be assured the record companies will go down swinging, and they won’t be worried about cost or inconvenience to listeners/customers along the way.

Message Edited by GnisiBrianJ25us on 08-13-2008 04:51 PM

Message Edited by GnisiBrianJ25us on 08-13-2008 04:51 PM

Ok, so turn the question around:   With the hardware on the Sansa Connect, it is perfectly possible to stream audio from the internet, either from remote locations via shoutcast etc, Or locally, via itunes music server, smb shares, etc. 

Why was a music subsciption service required at all?  I think Sansa could just leave Yahoo out of the equation all together, and be done with it.  As an example, how much is the ZEN X-Fi 16gb?  180 something at NewEgg (vs. over 200 for the Connect). 

In fact, it looks to me like Sansa should be rewriting the firmware to copycat the Zen X-Fi, and just keep right on selling the Connect.  Then we can all have Zen X-Fi players without the exploding screen (yes, ZEN players do that).   Seriously, I don’t understand why they don’t do that.  In fact, just get the guys at Rockbox to do it.

Hans

I would love to see SanDisk or Rockbox write some firmware to allow the Connect to listen to streams other than Y! Launchcast, maybe a menu of choices. 

The point of the Connect was to have a device that could download music tracks “on-the-fly” as you were listening to them, and save them on the Connect player.   To do this, a music subscription service was necessary, and Yahoo happened to be the choice.   In addition, it allowed access to all of your playlists (if you were a subscriber) and it would stream those too.  Also, it allowed searching for a particular artist on the Yahoo Music service, and the ability to download anything you found that you liked onto your player via wifi.  So, if you had a subscription, it was unique and, to me, very kewl.   In order to make all this happen, there was some client software and some backend server stuff going on that was licensed from Zing (now owned by Dell), something that also drove the design/functionality of the product.  With the Connect/Yahoo relationship over, the last remaining Zing-enabled devices out there is the Sirius Stiletto, which uses the Zing system to “bookmark” a track as you are listening to it, then, if you have a subscription at Rhapsody or Napster, you can download those tracks onto the player by hooking it to your PC.  The bookmarking on the Stiletto isn’t nearly as good as the live download the Connect could do.

Actually, you didn’t need a Y! music subscription to enjoy most features of the Connect.  Even without a subscription, streaming Launchcast worked, as well as all the normal MP3 features.  You just couldn’t download music without the subscription, which was the whole point of the Connect.  To me, if you didn’t intend to take advantages of all the Connect’s features by subscribing, it wasn’t the best choice for a player.

As far as price, the initial MSRP was something like $249.  But by the summer of 2007, when I bought mine, they could be had for about $100, which is what I paid.  Still a little pricey for a plain 4G player, but a great value when combined with the music subscription features.  I was a subscription music customer long before the Connect came on the scene, so for me, it was the ultimate player gadget - good screen, video capable, memory expansion, actually, it’s still a pretty good player.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Connect was never intended to be what you are suggesting it be now.  On the other hand, now that the service features are no longer available and no Zing relationship, it would be great if there was firmware available that would allow you to choose between say, 3-4 streaming services, Shoutcast being one of them.   As it stands now, Y! Launchcast will continue to work, even after the Yahoo Music Unlimited service is shut down in September.

On a side note, it appears a variation of the Connect appears to on the horizion this fall as a new generation of Dell MP3 players, which, I suppose, isn’t surprising, since they now own Zing.

Quote follows:

> So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Connect was never intended to be what you are suggesting it be now.

My question was, why wasn’t it originally concieved as I suggested (and as ZEN is now selling), and, more topically, why isn’t that being planned now (rather than obsoleting the design)?

The ZEN X-Fi (and the Archos) demonstrates the value in a player that is able to stream music via WIFI without a paid subscription model.  Would accesss to a paid subscription music service enhance the value of the ZEN X-Fi?  Certainly.  (In fact, if I was doing a subscription service, I’d *want* people to be able to listen on any music stream, and then buy the track from me).  Would the abiltiy to stream to the Connect from an Itunes Music Server (or smb share) via WIFI enhance the value of the Connect?  Certainly.  Why didn’t Sansa do that (and why don’t they do that now)? We problaby ought to ask the laywers I imagine.

Regards,

Hans

Ask the lawyers - yes, you’re probably right.  Maybe Sansa has some lingering obligation to continue to carry Launchcast exclusively.  My guess that the firmware update at the end of the month is, in part, related to the fact that they don’t have the Zing license anymore.  There may be other legal issues that prevent them from rebuilding the Connect firmware that might cause them to just walk away.

Perhaps someday they will introduce another WIFi model, although they seem to have stayed pretty close to a product line of basic MP3 players at modest prices.   I saw a breakout recently of market share (Q1 2008), and they are #2, behind iPod (71 %) then Sansa (11%), Zune (4%), Creative (2%), then all the rest.  I wonder if the high end models with lots of advanced capabilities would match their goals and be worth the development costs for a tiny market share.  It seems that, at least for now, most users just want to listen to some music, look at a few pictures - maybe the majority of the market hasn’t elevated in sophistication yet sufficient to make high-end volume worthwhile.

Message Edited by GnisiBrianJ25us on 08-13-2008 06:04 PM

Short of the rather junky and overpriced Haier ibiza, there still isn’t a comparable replacement for the Connect.  When you look at all the features and the price point, nothing else is quite it.

Sure, it’s complicated. The record companies, SanDisk, and Yahoo…  A nightmare.  However, strong market demand would sure help iron out those complications.  Anytime I explained to someone about how I get my music (via Yahoo / Connect) they hadn’t a clue about any of it, so it’s obvious that SanDisk and Yahoo didn’t get together and push this thing they way they should have, or worse, underestimated just how revolutionary the Connect / YMU combo was.  They didn’t understand what they had? 

I’m willing to believe that, actually.  So many new products seem to be the result of implementing a new technology without much thought for it’s usefullness.  “Hey, BlueTooth is hot right now, let’s get it in a toaster and give it a touchscreen.”  How about sending a song wirelessly to a friend with the same player for three plays?  Yawn.  Your friend has to be within earshot of you anyway to receive the file, so why not just lend him the headphones for thirty seconds so he can decide whether or not he likes it.  Probably less hassle.

Since YMU subscribers have access to all those online videos, why wasn’t video streaming impelmented into the Connect? We got an update so we could play our own videos.  Meanwhile, an entire library of YMU music videos is inaccessible to Connect users.  That surely would’ve created interest in the Connect /YMU.

So YMU is dead, partly due to the fact that a great number of people who get music online are just stealing it, but folks are also probably thinking that, for essentially the same money, they could have a similar service added to their cell phone plan. (Verizon Vcast or whatever it is.)  I think we can probably kiss all these online music services goodbye soon enough.

…but I still ain’t buyin’ a **bleep** cell phone.

This has to be one of the most literate and thoughtful threads ever on this forum.  Thanks GnisiBrianJ25us, Connect, Hans.  Really puts the whole Connect situation in perspective. 

The recent events regarding the Connect has been excellent news for me.

I’ve had NO interest in subscribing and downloading songs to the Connect via Wi-Fi.

My interest was being able to listen to streaming music.  And while I can not listen to music from Soma-FM, or other streaming sources (like I can with my Nokia 770), over 100 different channels without announcers and commercial interuption is great.

It’s also different.  Much like radio, you listen for the type and variety of music you choose.

Listening to your same old downloaded songs over and over is not only boring, but does not allow you to hear something new that you may not have heard before.

I’m very glad that this aspect (including Flickr) has been retained.

WZ3F

Yahoo should be applauded?  I guess that’s true if you’re a stockholder, but pardon me if I don’t applaud a company that markets the hell out of a device with promised functionality and then reneges on it with no promise of support.  Yahoo points to Rhapsody who points to Sandisk who points to Yahoo, and it just plain sucks. 

And I was promised a fully-functional and supported unit, not a “Demonstration Device” - you work for these companies’ PR or something?

Nope, I don’t work for Yahoo, SanDisk, or Rhapsody (thankfully, on all counts!), but I understand the idea that you innovate, try to predict consumer desires, promote, hope to succeed, and cut your losses when it doesn’t work.   I don’t think SanDisk designed the product, marketed it, just so they could discontinue it a year later.   Actually, the writing was on the wall for Yahoo Music Unlimited for sometime, shortly after the Connect’s introduction.  Y! musicman, Ian Rogers, had been on his anti-DRM campaign for some time, and there was lots of internal griping about DRM/licensing issues, and growing frustrations trying to negotiate with the record companies about which tracks could be subscription, which could be on portable devices, etc., etc.  Then there was the dramatic increase in fees for streaming music on the web, i.e., Launchcast.    I will predict that, unless there are some changes to the subscription and streaming fees and business model, Napster and Rhapsody are next.  The recording industry, as a “can’t beat 'em, join 'em” move to save their hides is in the process trying to capture the digital music business for themselves by developing their own streaming and subscription services.  What will be the end result?  A fragmentation of an already small market with the result that nobody can make a living from it.  Technology and services can design and implement many great systems, and this was one of them.  And content providers can kill itl, and so they will. 

And I was promised a fully-functional and supported unit, not a “Demonstration Device”

I would say you got a fully funtional and supported unit that delivered on its promises, with a short life cycle.  It still functions as an MP3/WMA/video player.  As far as Launchcast is concerned (which is still available on the device) I’m trying to figure out the point of Y! continuing that.  Does it drive folks to Yahoo?  Does it make a buck through ad supported activity?  They don’t deliver ads to the Connect.  With the increased fees of streaming music, can they ever make it pay? 

Services change - after the Connect was launched, the lawyers decided that free wifi hotspots needed to add a page that said you must promise not do anything naughty or illegal on the internet, and, if you do, you can’t blame the wifi host.  Since the Connect doesn’t have a web browser built in, you can’t authenticate on these networks with the Connect.  Who’s fault is that?  SanDisk, Yahoo?  Does SanDisk have an obligation to add a web browser - it wasn’t the goal of the device, and nobody could have predicted this change - they don’t have the obligation to accomodate it.

Now Haier has designed a wifi Rhapsody model that duplicates the features of the Connect.  I say, if you’re going to invest in one, realize the perils that Rhapsody faces, the intentions of the recording industry.  Same goes for buying a Sirius/XM device.  They haven’t had a positive balance sheet since launch, and the merger isn’t going to change that anytime soon.   So, should you buy one of their devices, recognizing that satellite radio might not be around in the future.  Should I enjoy it while it lasts, or avoid it all together because the time horizon for the device might not be long enough to satisfy my value goals?

As someone who has done my share of early adopter activity, back in 1995, I bought my first MP3 player (an RCA Lyra).  Shortly after I bought it, buying music tracks ala carte became available, but all the tracks were sold as DRM wrapped WMA files.   RCA didn’t update the firmware, so except for ripping CD’s, the device was screwed.  (Now, in a strange twist of fate, MP3’s are being sold, so the ancient device is actually useful again!)

Another, somewhat off-topic example:  companies who are trying to stream movies.  Now that our PC hardware have all these great capabilites of processor capacity, media extenders, available HD displays, and the ability that 'ol Bill Gates predicted years ago - making the PC an entertainment device that can move off the desktop and into the living room.  Has it arrived?  Yup, the technology supports it, there are vendors that make content available for a fee, or for free.  But wait, now the ISP’s say, “you’re taking up too much bandwidth, we’re going to have to charge you a lot more for your internet connection if you do that”.  So, now the incremental cost of watching that streaming video just became a whole lot more expensive.  Why?  Because the cable companies who built an internet service based on a shared network connection to each subscriber don’t have the capacity in their infrastructure to handle it - they didn’t anticipate the traffic growth and have no simple way to fix it.  You’d hope that the hardware manufacturers, developers, ISP’s, content distributors, and content creators would all jump in the sandbox together and play nice, and have a meetup every now and then to try and predict the future together.  But they don’t.  They all operate independent ops, and all want their own bottom line to work, and they want to do it without having to cooperate with someone else who’s worrying about their own bottom line unless it benefits theirs too.

Devices that depend on content, and the services that provide it, are always at risk, and come with no guarantees that they will be able to deliver any particular functionality dependent upon it.   Just ask all the folks who bought Betamax machines and HD-DVD players.  Both had short life cycles, and became doorstops overnight at the whim of the content providers.

One last example - the Microsoft Zune.  The Zune uses a uses a DRM scheme for subscription music that is exclusive to Microsoft and incompatible with any other provider who uses the legacy “Plays For Sure” scheme (like Rhapsody and Napster).  They have a whopping 2% of the MP3 player market, and only a percentage of those do subscription music.   What are MS’s obligations when they/if they get tired of pouring $$ down that rat hole?   Are they obligated to compensate Zune owners?   Should they be blamed for trying to enter the market at all?  And what are their obligations when their entry into the marketplace ultimately fails to capture enough share to continue?   There are risks for a company who offer products that fail, and risks for the consumer who buys them.  I don’t have the answer, but I see many parallels to the saga of the Connect.

Message Edited by GnisiBrianJ25us on 08-17-2008 10:18 AM

Message Edited by GnisiBrianJ25us on 08-17-2008 10:32 AM

Message Edited by GnisiBrianJ25us on 08-17-2008 10:36 AM

What we lose:

  • Wireless download. 

  • Wireless Launchcast Plus radio.

What stays the same:

  • PC USB download.

  • Wireless Lauchcast radio. 

  • Wireless Flicker.

What we gain:

  • $15/mo (Rhapsody price) 

Some of us may be better off ditching subscription music and paying for individual tracks.  If you rarely downloaded more than 15 songs/month, you’ll save money. 

But you’ll have to

  • listen to regular Launchcast,

  • scribble down on paper or somewhere the names of the tracks you want to buy,

  • later hook up the Connect to your PC

  • log in to a music provider and buy the track with DRM on that computer,

  • sync the Connect.

All of that is stupid labor.  That one button download was/is such a great concept, I gotta believe someone will copy it, even if it’s only applied to purchasing the track via credit card, a la the Kindle.

GnisiBrianJ25us:  You make some great points.  I’ll extend it a little more.  Recently, I believe a law was passed stating that the internet radio stations had to pay a fee to a fund that would distribute the money to the appropriate licensee (RIAA members, etc.)  This includes radio stations that play indie type music where the artists freely allow their music to be broadcast.  So, if you play your local, unaffiliated band’s music on an Internet radio station, you are still going to be charged fees.  In order for the band to collect the fee, they have to sign up with a union (pay the union dues) then collect the pittance that won’t make up for the union dues.

Secondly, in this move for the PC and other computer devices’ move to the entertainment center of our lives, the movie, music, and provider industries are doing their best to grab as much of the money pie as possible.  Unfortunately, this drives prices up and they are essentially killing the industry.  That and the bad will they are creating from spying on and suing the users (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not), unfairly charging an industry that provides possible sales, and other tactics are starting to wear on their sales… yet they blame piracy.  All the while, the entertainment money pie from consumers is shriveling due to external factors (such as cost of food, travel, education, etc.).

Sandisk is a pretty cool company with some very intriguing products.  I wish they would start to support Ogg Vorbis, or at least throw a bone to the Rockbox people for the Connect. 4GiB is a lot of memory (+4 more GiB with a MiniSDHC card), but many of us have very large collection of music.  Ogg Vorbis has excellent sound with a compact footprint.

Do they not realize that they may sell more units with an open platform?  That  would be huge and may even steal a lot of thunder from Apple.  With community mods and applications that would enhance their products, Sandisk would just have to make sure their development interface is clean and bug proof.  The word would get out that a great MP3 player with lots of apps and potential is out. The developer community would be a buzz and both great and mediocre software would enhance Sandisk’s products and make them appealing to the masses.  Of course, as Microsoft and Apple have taught us, it is all about the marketing, and Sandisk would have to get the word out about these cool features.

Thanks, @Machtyn for your comments.  Indeed, the recording and movie industry are their own worst enemy - and ours as consumers.   They have never had the perpensity to play nice, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. 

I agree that the Connect would be a great hardware platform for an open source player device.   There seems to be much going on in the background with this device as it relates to latent agreements with Yahoo, Zing, and Dell (who recently bought Zing).   I recently saw a few articles about Dell reviving their DJ Ditty line of players this fall, and perhaps even offering some sort of subscription music service.  The interactivity between streaming music and subscription music downloads is what the Zing backend is all about.  What was interesting was that the attached pictures in the article was of a variation of the Connect, with the screen showing a modified version of the function menu, etc.  Perhaps Dell has obtained ownership/rights to the hardware design or a private label relationship with SanDisk???

Here’s a link to a recent Engadget article:

http://www.engadget.com/2008/07/30/oh-gawd-dell-releasing-zing-based-dj-ditty-in-september/

Well, according to that article, that’s a “pre-Dell era Zing prototype.” I believe that’s also known as the “Sansa Connect.”

Making the new Connect an open platform device isn’t going to solve any of the problems that kept popular music from being played on it.  And the whole point here seems to be that, even if they made it open-platform, not enough people would ever find out about it.  Right back to square one.  I say we had the product we needed/wanted, but ultimately they couldn’t make it fly. 

One thing I never understood throughout this is how Zing is making any sort of unique contribution here.  Is it THAT hard to write code to verify user registration and download a song?  This requires a third party?  Who is designing and writing the interface for all the other Sansa players?  Dell buys Zing.  Big deal.  I’m sure someone else can figure out how to get subscription songs wirelessly into an MP3 player.