The flow of music is changing. The iPod model, the greatest iteration of buying and organizing music, is being phased out in favor of Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, and Tidal, among other streaming services. Far from the days when switching computers meant watching iTunes mysteriously lose your tracks, people are opting to subscribe to their favorites. That’s still not good enough for Isaac Mao.
“What we’re doing with the music product [is trying] to break the conventional music rules, trying to make information flow differently,” he says.
Mao is the co-founder and Chief Architect of Aivvy, a new spin on streaming music that aims to cut the cord when it comes to connections to play subscription music. With better caching and more space, Aivvy will learn your favorite music and update it to your selections. The team grabbed $188,573 from 511 backers on Kickstarter in March. They’re rolling out their first delivery in February.
“We want to go beyond that to research some tech for social good, making life more enjoyable and more connected to each other,” Mao states.
The IoT music device
Aivvy (AI + savvy) will auto-update your music while it charges, but won’t eat away at your data. It’s set to only update by a strong WiFi connection. Mao and co. scored an Innovation Award in Wearabe Technology at CES 2016 and the team is riding high.
“We still need to subscribe to service, own devices,” Mao highlights to Geektime. “This [Aivvy] accesses an ocean of music.”
A software architect by trade and a habitual entrepreneur, he’s backed projects like Global Voices Online and the Social Brain Foundation to promote grassroots publishing inside China. He’s also a player with Creative Commons China, the organization that freely licenses content online. Mao met his co-founder Hasan Gadjali at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, where they paired off Mao’s architecture with Gadjali’s experience with PlayStation as an engineer at Omnivision to create Aivvy: It is pronounced “ivy” in an allusion to the institution that brought them together.
“The product: We wanted to make music listening interesting, free, with less friction and make a hardware like iPod did 15 years ago where all music is managed easily in one device. But it’s out of date because it’s not connected.”
Aivvy can play 40 hours of “high quality music” without a connection by caching up to 32 gigabytes of data. It’s the difference between streaming and “dreaming” as Mao dubs it, re-detaching the music experience from phones. That also eliminates the erosion of data that streaming music can have on your mobile. They are on their ninth model in just 18 months, but thankfully for Mao and co. he says the software is stable and it’s come down to the ease of design.
Their latest prototype includes a channel nob on one ear and a volume nob on the other. You can swipe the size of the headphone to skip a song or tap it to ‘like.’
The big obstacle is the same as its streaming competitors: licensing. But obstacle is a bit opaque. Mao says their team in Redwood has lined up rights to over 18 million songs, which is more than Spotify.
“It could be a subscription model in the future, but the first year is buying the actual device and you listen to free for that first year.”
For now, the February launch will sell their Generation 1 devices in the U.S. with free access to music in the first year. After that, the idea is to shift toward subscriptions on the consumer side and licensing the hardware to manufacturers in the B2B realm.
“We’re speaking to some Indian founders right now,” Mao explains, outlining plans to break into all the major geographic markets and special interest groups, like athletes.
“We want to enable the upper layer of hardware makers to adapt the technology and user experience, to build their personal taste into this hardware. SDK will be released later after launching our own first hardware into the market so even the developer can acquire a small model and employ it.”
Expect the licenses to fetch some pretty strong revenue. It will be an interesting addition to the online music market.
Aivvy was co-founded by Isaac Mao and SVP Hasan Gadjali in 2014. They maintain offices at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park as well as in Redwood City, California.