I love my iPod, but I do not love that it's basically a PC accessory. No PC (or Mac) nearby means no content on the iPod, and no updates. There's got to be a better way.
I've previously covered a company, Music Gremlin, that's building a Wi-Fi-enabled music player. And at the D4 conference this morning, a new company, Zing, is rolling out a service that enables other companies (like its partners Sirius and Yahoo) to build their own complete music infrastructures--content to player--that work just fine without a PC connection.
The Zing prototype shown at D4 had both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios built in. The radios are used to download music and to upload data about what you are listening to. If you have one of these players, you can do cool things, like see what your friends are listening to, then play samples of those tracks, or buy songs and albums directly from the player. If you try buy items when you're not in range of a Wi-Fi access point, the product will queue up your requests and batch-process them when you do eventually connect.
Most people will probably start using a Zing-powered player by first loading it with music that they have on their computer. But say you have just one track by Johnny Cash, and when you're playing it you realize you want more. On your player, you can flag the album it came from, and next time you're in Wi-Fi range, the player will download it for you. The player will stream Sirius radio content (via Wi-Fi, not a satellite connection) and will enable you to do the same thing when you're listening to radio tracks.
The Zing reference player has both a built-in speaker and a microphone, which, combined with the Wi-Fi radio, means it has all the hardware a voice-communication platform needs. So as a bonus, the software enables you to talk with your friends, walkie-talkie style, over the Wi-Fi network.
Building networking capabilities into music players is the obvious next step in their evolution. But wireless devices (cell phones) are also getting music players built into them. It's a bit early to say definitively which model will win out, but it's worth noting that for most people, a cell phone is a necessity while a music player is a luxury; I think that indicates which way the market is going to tilt.
The first Zing-powered players should ship this year, carrying the Sirius brand.