By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 3:46 pm
Back in June, satellite-radio provider Sirius XM released an iPhone application. It was missing much of the service’s signature content, was difficult to sign up for, and was dauntingly pricey compared to the bevy of free Internet radio services available on the iPhone. And other than that, it was swell.
Today, the company announced another iPhone product that’s potentially cooler: XM SkyDock, an iPhone peripheral that turns an iPhone or iPod Touch into a fancy color-screen satellite radio for your car. Unlike the iPhone app on its own, the dock delivers real satellite radio, so it includes the full complement of programming–everything from Howard Stern to old-time radio–and won’t suffer from the spottiness of AT&T’s 3G network. (I canceled my XM service in July and switched to listening to stuff like Slacker and Pandora on my iPhone; I’m happy with the music, but the signal keeps conking out on the road.)
The new dock will sell for $120 when it premieres this fall, and pipes audio to your car’s stereo via a new technology called PowerConnect that uses your car’s wiring harness to improve sound quality. (If PowerConnect works well, that’s news in itself–I’ve lost countless hours of my life to trying to coax acceptable audio out of FM transmitters from a bunch of manufacturers.)
One question mark that remains: How many folks who own iPhones or iPods Touch and find the SkyDock intriguing will think that satellite radio is worth the monthly cost? The standard plan is $12.95 a month (but there’s an additional $1.98 music royalty fee which the pricing info page mysteriously doesn’t mention). In the world of iPhone economics, in which nearly everything except the phone and 3G service are cheap or free, that’s a lot of dough.
The cheapest way to get Sirius XM seems to be get rid of Sirius XM: In the weeks since I ditched the service, I’ve gotten repeated offers to renew for a year for $77, or half off the standard rate. Which is cheap enough to make it at least mildly tempting, although I still think that an iPhone equipped only with free and low-cost apps beats a satellite radio with a paid subscription when it comes to overall variety…