Pandora, SanDisk Push Mobile Recommendation Play

Pandora unveiled a number of portability deals this week, part of a push towards broader concept adoption.

Pandora, a recommendation service that allows listeners to craft personalized stations, is aiming to satisfy a growing appetite for music discovery and consumption.  Earlier this week, the Oakland-based company disclosed deals with Sprint and Sonos, a manufacturer of wirelessly-connected, in-home stereo systems.  Also in the mix is SanDisk, a well-established portable storage company that continues to make waves within the MP3 player arena.  The Pandora partnership promises to produce a WiFi-enabled portable that features customized, user-crafted stations.  The project also involves Mountain View, CA-based Zing Systems, Inc., a company that provides specialized WiFi know-how.  Zing was also central to the release of the SanDisk Sansa Connect, a WiFi-enabled player that offers access to the Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription service and Launchcast streaming radio channels.

The deal-making moves Pandora off of the desktop and allows discovery in a number of new environments.  Theoretically, that embraces a music consumer that wants music anywhere, anytime, though the efforts are mostly ahead of their time.  Currently, the iPod represents the most effective and popular portable music solution, though the mobile industry is eager to dethrone that dominance.   Whether WiFi-based portable media players have a place in that battle remains speculative, though WiFi currently lacks ubiquity outside of the office, home and campus.

Meanwhile, larger questions loom about the Pandora approach.  Pandora stations require heavy amounts of consumer interaction, a structure that could alienate more time-strapped or distracted listeners.  The company also builds its database of song “genomes” through a rather manual process, one that requires song-by-song reviews by a staff of roughly one-hundred.