Mar 9, 2013

Music without Device Lock-in

Recently I took the plunge into figuring out a solution to play music in my apartment. I tried a number of solutions but the deciding factor for me ended up being setup and the type of apps available for the hardware platform.

My building offers free WiFi (hooray!) but no dedicated ethernet port (boo!). Here are the 3 things I tried before succeeding.

The Nexus Q is pretty simple to set up. Joining my existing network was a snap and didn't require any special cables, a monitor, etc. It did require that I download the Nexus Q app for my Android phone though. Once it was up and running I noticed a number of inconveniences.

  1. 1. Software is a bit spotty. Google is King of Software so I'm sure this will get sorted out soon.
  2. 2. Requires wired speakers. A huge bummer. You have to get wired speakers and physically plug them into the Nexus Q using banana jack plugs. I borrowed a pair of good speakers with the necessary wires and plugs and gave it a go but the whole thing just looked ugly. (It's an apartment and I'm not going to be able to hide those wires easily.)
  3. 3. Vendor lock in. I really expected Google to be bigger than this. I can't understand why I can't control my Nexus Q from my Mac. I also can't figure out why they wouldn't allow Pandora or 3rd party apps.

So at the end of it, I had to put the Nexus Q back in its box. All the hardware is there so I hope a future software update enables bluetooth speaker pairing and 3rd party apps.

I next tried a Raspberry Pi. Building it is a snap but the lack of TV really made setup impossible. I may give this a try someplace else. Raspberry Pi + Music Player Daemon should be a no brainer. There's even a version of MPD that works with Spotify.

The last thing I tried was Sonos. They've got a basic bridge and Play 3 wireless speaker that costs around the same price as the Nexus Q. The only problem here is that the bridge requires Ethernet. Fortunately I didn't have to look far before I figured out the Apple Airport Express offers a client mode which basically transforms WiFi signals into Ethernet. (The Airport Express does much more too but this is the mode I needed!) After setting up client mode and getting my building to authenticate the device by MAC Address, I was cooking with gas.

Sonos setup is really simple and they offer applications for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. It's not perfect (hey Sonos, where's my Debian package?!) but it works well. And the best part about Sonos is that there's no vendor lock in at all. I've got Pandora, NPR, Spotify, and Amazon's cloud player all set up and working.

Apple and Google may think they're winning the war by using their Android and iOS platforms to lock in users, but the reality is that for me, it means giving even more power to the independent vendors who just want your stuff to work wherever you want it to. So thank you Amazon, Netflix, Dropbox, Evernote, Pandora, Sonos, and the rest of you letting me use the things I paid for how I want to.

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