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What does the iPad mean for radio?

Is the iPad good for mobile internet radio?

Already some of us have been listening to live streaming internet radio on our mobile devices, like iPhones and Blackberries. But, as I argued last month, the experience still doesn’t quite add up to true mobile internet radio, especially because when you’re using cell data like 3G it saps the heck out of your battery. My experience streaming live radio on my iPhone gives me a little more than an hour before I’m nearly out of juice. The new Apple iPad looks to be a great mashup of an iPhone and netbook, which are both decent devices for listening to internet radio on the go, but also have their drawbacks.

The fact that some iPad models offer 3G wireless data connectivity out-of-the box, for a very reasonable $30 a month without any contracts make it a great candidate for mobile internet radio listening. It won’t necessarily be any better for the car than an iPhone, Blackberry or Android phone. But in other mobile circumstances it shows distinct promise.

So the question is, will the iPad bring us one step closer to truly mobile internet radio? Based on early specs, and having never touched it myself, the answer is a distinct maybe.

The first important factor is battery life. If the battery poops out after only an hour, then it’s only good for short trips. But if you have a longer train or bus commute, or are outside away from a wi-fi connection you probably want at least two good hours. While Apple specifies that you get 10 hours of active wi-fi use on a charge, no 3G batterly life specs are published. With a much bigger battery than an iPhone one would expect that constant 3G use would go longer, but we’ll have to wait until the first longer-term reviews come out.

The next big issue is sound quality. I currently use my iPhone, netbook or MacBook Pro to stream audio in a variety of circumstances, including home and when away in hotels. They’re all fine for using with headphones or external speakers, though the iPhone is the clear winner for fidelity. But I don’t always want to use headphones or lug around speakers. In a pinch the iPhone’s speaker is better than nothing at all (sounding like a pocket radio), and the netbook is barely any better. My MacBook’s speakers are the best in this category, but at the same time it seems wasteful overkill to use this powerful laptop computer just to listen to radio. My hope is that it will sound at least as good as a MacBook Pro, which itself is on par with a portable radio the size of a paperback book. We’ll have to see how the iPad’s speakers measure up against these competitors.

The final big factor is multitasking, and on this measure we already know the answer: there is no multi-tasking on the iPad. This is important because all of the streaming radio apps are not made by Apple, and you can only run one non-Apple app at a time. So you want to listen to a live feed of a Cubs game while Tweeting? No can do. Catch a live feed of the State of the Union while reading the New York Times online? Also a big no. So, unless Apple decides to add the ability to listen to live streams to the iPad’s iPod app–which is allowed to multitask with other apps–this is probably the biggest count against the radio capabilities of the iPad.

At least as far as mobile internet radio is concerned, the iPad looks like a tiny step forward. If the 3G battery life and sound quality are up to snuff, then it’s a bigger step. But without multitasking where you can listen to a live stream while using other apps, the iPad is not the next big thing in mobile internet radio.

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5 Responses to What does the iPad mean for radio?

  1. Matthew Lasar January 29, 2010 at 7:57 am #

    I’m with the Brits on this one. Latest Ofcom poll on iPad: 39% say it’s “overhyped”; 8% say it’s overpriced; 31% say they’ll wait for 2.0; 22% say they’re excited.

  2. lukasaltar May 18, 2010 at 1:36 am #

    No, the iPad will not have FM radio but, similar to the iPhone, it will have access to iTunes where you can download podcasts and other radio shows. [spam link removed]

  3. Spencer Staats May 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    the ipad os update that is coming in late summer 2010 provides support for multitasking. please update article.

  4. Matthew Lasar May 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Hey Spencer:

    Here’s our article on that.

  5. Paul Riismandel May 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    Spencer, see recent post on the addition of multitasking:

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