WHAT IT IS: Snaptune One aims to be TiVo for radio. It is software that downloads complete songs from FM radio to a PC. The recorded songs -- MP3 or WMA formatted files -- can then be burned to CD or transferred to a portable music device. A free version of the program enables the user to burn or transfer 20 songs. A premium version of the program costs $39.95 and allows unlimited writing and transferring of music files.
WHO'S BEHIND IT: Co-founders Bill Baxter, founder of BSquare, and Ian Mercer, founder of Automap, have formed a privately held corporation for Snaptune One based in Bellevue, Wash.
HOW IT WORKS: Long gone are the days of hovering over a tape player waiting for your favorite song to begin so you could quickly press the record button. Snaptune uses an FM tuner card -- available on most media-center PCs -- or an external USB FM tuner to capture the audio-stream of your local radio station. Snaptune can also work with a traditional stereo connected to the computer via an inexpensive line-in cable. Snaptune divides the recording into songs and identifies the tracks using advanced pattern-matching techniques.
WHO'S USING IT: The product just became available for download and is still in a Beta-testing phase. Ex-Napster users and other technophilic cheapskates will likely be enthusiastic about the potentially huge volume of free downloads available after the relatively inexpensive initial software purchase. However, it may require too much of a time-investment for casual users. Once the software is installed, the tester's guide says it will take around 8 hours for the first songs to show up. The guide assures the user that Snaptune will find several hundred songs within the week as it learns the patterns of your chosen radio station.
POSSIBLE LEGAL ISSUES: Record companies may get up in arms about giving people the means to capture their content without paying. Yet Snaptune thinks their software adheres to the fair-use principle. "The bottom line is that we're providing people with a way to listen to radio and that's what their rights are to do right now," said Mr. Baxter, one of the co-founders. "We'll let the attorneys -- if they need to -- talk about this but it's our opinion that this is fully legal thing to do."
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: If the idea of digital radio recording takes off, Snaptune could radically transform music consumption patterns. Currently, when a person hears a song they like on the radio, they frequently forget the song title or the artist's name so they take no steps to purchase the music. Snaptune will help the user identify the songs they like and will present the user with links to sites where they can purchase CDs containing those songs. This may help drive traffic to online music retailers. Mr. Baxter explained that the whole purpose of the software is to sell music. "Although our service is still in its early stages, we're seeing an incredible amount of sell-through by our product over to our fulfillment partners," he said.
Pay-per-download music stores like iTunes could be threatened if people can download the songs they hear on the radio for free. Yet Snaptune's sound quality is inferior to that provided by an online music retailer. Mr. Baxter describes the sound quality of music captured through Snaptune as "generally decent" but "clearly nowhere near what you acquire online." The music is saved at 64 kbps and is FM compressed.
Most significantly, Snaptune could enable consumers listening at home the opportunity to selectively avoid radio advertising. As with TiVo, ads are captured as part of the entire broadcast but users can choose whether to listen to the entire stream or just individual segments within the stream.