Summary:

Orb’s Music Puck, a $69 device that streams digital over a home network is launching just two months before Apple’s similar AirPlay functionality arrives in iOS devices. Music on Orb is controlled with a free smartphone app. Can Orb’s new hardware compete against Apple’s music juggernaut?

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Back when smartphones were just being born and cloud-based services were little more than misty ideas, I was streaming digital media using free software from Orb. Since then a crop of streaming solutions have appeared; now we have a number of options to stream music from the cloud. Maybe that’s why Orb is launching the $69 Orb Music Player, the first piece of hardware that I can recall from the company.

The small puck-like device essentially enables any pair of speakers to play music from your digital audio collection over a wireless home network. Much like a Sonos, although far less expensive and just as easy to use, the Orb Music Player attaches to stereo speakers for music output. Orb software on a computer indexes your music collection and the Music Player can pull down those tunes from the computer on demand, allowing for music enjoyment anywhere in the range of a home Wi-Fi network.

Orb is officially introducing the device on Monday, but it may have soft-launched, because early adopters can order it now directly from the Orb website. Since the small puck has no display, playback is handled by the Orb Controller application for iOS devices, so you can control it with an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. A controller app for Android devices is next on the list for Orb.

Gizmodo’s Kyle VanHemert has a hands-on review of the device and, like most of Orb’s previous products, finds that the Music Player is a compelling media streamer.

[I]n my experience with Orb, the whole thing just worked, which is crucial. It’s easy to see Orb becoming the Flip of streaming wireless media around the house, something that is cheap and good enough, even if it lacks certain frills. Right now Orb’s handicapped by a few random shortcomings — not being able to control music from your computer being the glaringly obvious one — but it’s flexible in some ways that Air Tunes is not.

VanHemert raises a valid point as Apple has already announced that Air Tunes will become AirPlay in iOS 4.2, and will offer very similar functionality to the Orb Music Player. As a result, I see three challenges facing Orb’s new product. Apple will be replicating the same functionality in less than two months when iOS 4.2 arrives; hardware-makers are already planning to take advantage of AirPlay by supporting it natively in devices; and Apple has a retail presence in its own stores as well as other retailers. Orb needs to get its Music Player on the shelves of Best Buy, Target and the like if it really wants to move the puck.

 

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