Spanish Design Student Creates Sleek New Spotify Gadget

Leave it to those ambitious, young grad students to show us the objects of our desire that we didn’t even realize we desired. Thanks to Jordi Parra, an Interaction Design student at the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden, we now have a futuristic new music player that lets you listen to Spotify from the comfort of your living room. (Only if your living room is in Europe, however, as Spotify is not yet available in the U.S.)

At first glance, the player — which Parra made as part of his final design project in collaboration with Spotify — looks like a digital lovechild of Jonathan Ive and the brilliant Swedes at Ikea. Perhaps the coolest feature of the product’s design is its inclusion of 192 LED nodes, which display volume levels, battery life, and Internet connectivity on the device’s face. Not too shabby for a degree project!

How does this bad boy work? The player uses radio frequency identification (or RFID) technology: place one of the colored RFID tags, which links to your playlists, onto the magnetized volume knob, and voila! As soon as the tag sticks to the knob, the antenna/Arduino in the player reads the tag and plays your hot jams. You stop those hot jams by simply removing the tag. Kinda cool, right?

In the case of Parra’s reader, the responder senses the RFID tag and identifies its unique ID. Once it does, it starts playing the music that you previously linked to that specific tag. (Pictures of Parra’s Arduino and the player’s insides here if you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.)

How you go about linking your playlists on the RFID tags is a little equivocal, but it sounds like this is done by connecting the player to a computer via USB. The device is programmed to know what tags shipped with the box, and the user can assign a playlist, album or a Spotify search to each of the different color-coded tags.

The player is sold with a unique serial number that will essentially register your device with Parra, though “register” may be a strong word in this case. The serial number allows Parra (and perhaps his future company) to track the player and its corresponding tags. Obviously, as you may have guessed, RFID technology has the potential for myriad security and privacy issues. (Think of the ad technology in Minority report that is essentially Philip K. Dick’s conjecture on RFID technology.) So, this will require some sensitivity on Parra’s part should the player end up being sold at market by Spotify.

Update: Parra ensured me that the tags are read-only (just the way he bought them from Sparkfun) and don’t actually contain any private data. Phew.

Though the inner workings of the device works may sound a bit complex at first glance, the UI is sleek and simple. Use the two small buttons in the lower left corner of the speaker (as seen in the above image) to skip to the previous and next tracks in your queue. The adjacent magnetized knob holds your tags and controls volume. The slick packaging that would ship with the player will include 8 RFID tags (which incidentally look suspiciously like pogs), a USB cable, and a stand for the tags.

It seems that, thanks to collective consciousness (or the relative novelty of applying RFID tech to music players), a few other designers and firms have been developing their own RFID devices. You can check out IDEO’s retro (whoa! Cassettes! Turntables!) player here. Or this guy’s squeezebox here.

You can also check out Jordi Parra’s blog for a stroll through the product’s development.