Who’s afraid of Airport Wireless?

soundbridgeLast week, I had a chance to chat with Roku Labs founder and chief executive Anthony Wood, about the future of his company and digital entertainment. It was a wide ranging conversation, but mostly we talked about Apple’s new wireless wonder, the Airport Express. Apple’s announcement comes at a time when Roku is about to commercially launch its Roku Sound Bridge. SoundBridge was going to be available in three weeks, and would sell in two flavors – one costing about $200 and the other $500. (And yes it works with ITunes and Mac!)

Wood, who in previous life had started Replay TV is confident of selling nearly 50,000 SoundBridge devices in first full year of sales, despite competition from Apple. “Apple has great industrial design and good software people so they are much tougher competitor,” says Wood. However he feels that Roku’s support for the Windows platform and other formats such as Windows Media will be key reasons it is going to be able to stay in the game. Moreover, Airport Express can be controlled from the computer, while SoundBridge can be controlled using a remote and TV. “I think Airport Express is more of a remote speaker addition,” Wood adds.

He thinks Apple’s introduction of Airport Wireless is bad news for generic media streaming device makers like Netgear and Linksys. “We are focused on software and user interface, but most of the others are sold on price,” he says. “We charge more for our products and we have an easier experience.” True – most of these guys slap on some poorly crafted OS on their boxes. My previous experiences with other home-audio streaming devices have been a bit of a blah. Many of them are too complicated to set-up, and some of them just don’t work with Mac, my platform of choice. I think Apple will make using wireless streaming so easy that more and more people will start doing wireless streaming.

Second part of this chat will appear later this week, and I discuss future of Roku and its HD-1000 media device. Stay tuned!


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