A startup founded by former Google employees is announcing its first product today. Both the company and the product are called Beep. And though the product looks like a strikingly-designed oversized volume control, it's really a way to stream digital music to speakers you already own.
Like Sonos -- by far the dominant name in multiple-room wireless music streaming -- Beeps are designed to let you build out a system by putting them in different places around your house. You can let your music follow you around, or different folks can listen to different stuff at the same time.
But while Sonos sells its own speakers in a variety of sizes, at various price points, Beep built its gizmo to plug into any speaker or speakers with audio-in ports -- everything from cheapie models to high-end ones. It plucks music from the air wirelessly, by connecting directly to your home Wi-Fi network.
Its creators have announced two ways to get music: They've worked with Pandora to make that service's apps for iOS and Android Beep-ready. They've also developed their own iPhone and Android apps, which can play the music stored on your phone. (You'll need one of these apps to control a Beep, since its dial only lets you perform basic tasks: adjusting the volume, pausing and skipping tracks.)
Beep says that more service partnerships are in the works. The company also hopes to work with established speaker manufacturers to build the Beep technology directly into their products.
Beep will be available in two colors: copper (not an overused hue in the world of gadgets) and dark grey. It'll cost $149 when the company ships it, which it expects to do this fall. You can pre-order it for $99 now.
Nifty as it looks, though, I'd be cautious about investing in it until the company has signed up more music services beyond Pandora. Sonos has set the bar for compatibility high: By my count, it supports 23 streaming options, including the standards (Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, TuneIn), newcomers (Beats Music) and ones I've never heard of (Aupeo). Beep doesn't have to come anywhere near matching that list from day one, but getting a few more big names on board will be important.