Slacker launches new website, updated mobile apps

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For those familiar with the service, Slacker has long held a strange position in the music-streaming world. Its free Slacker Radio music service plays in the same space as Pandora, while its paid Premium Radio offers on-demand access and competes with the likes of Spotify, Rdio, Mog, and Rhapsody.

Slacker has also been in the unique position among its peers of presenting Web and mobile interfaces that could best be described as, well, ugly. The company solved that problem with a relaunch of its website; iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry apps; and even logo at an event in San Francisco on Tuesday night.

Slacker’s old website (left) and revamped interface (right).

Besides being more bright and colorful, the new UIs also offer larger buttons/targets and make it easier to find and access things like playback controls and custom station creation tools.

The music guide as seen in the updated iOS app.

The company sets itself apart from the competition by using more than 75 actual human music curators (as opposed to algorithms) to create and update more than 200 stations, along with optional DJ-style descriptions of the music being played; providing sports, talk, and weather programming from ESPN, ABC News, and The Weather Channel (respectively); and offering deep customization tools. For example, improved fine-tuning controls use new sliders that are more intuitive than Slacker’s previous attempt, and as you drag the sliders you see a tag cloud that displays other artists that will appear in your station.

Slacker offers a catalog of 13 million-plus songs, which leaves it several million tracks behind its on-demand competition, but lightyears ahead of Pandora and its roughly 1 million tracks.

Slacker’s new fine-tune controls on the Web (left) and the previous method (right).

Tuesday evening (which included a live performance from the band Sliversun Pickups) was also something of a coming out party for Slacker, which hasn’t really done much in the way of marketing its service since it launched back in 2010. The company plans to go after Pandora in a big way, showing off an ad poking fun at the rival’s relatively paltry catalog and its habit of repeating songs because of it. At the other end of the spectrum, Slacker seems to be gunning for Spotify as well. Either way, the company is making a bold statement that it has “the most complete music service on earth,” and says it makes money from both its free and paid users.

Jonathan Seff
A Slacker employee shows off the new Web interface.

Although the basic Slacker Radio is free, the company will continue to offer ad-free listening, unlimited song skipping, and song lyrics for $4 a month with Slacker Radio Plus, and the $10-a-month Slacker Premium Radio gets you on-demand listening, playlist creation capabilities, and more.

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