Sonys eMarker is like a magic aural identifier. The one-button gizmo can identify most pop, rock and country songs played on any one of about 1,000 U.S. radio stations. The sorcery turns out to be based on fairly simple technology: The device pairs an accurate internal clock with an extensive online music database.
The eMarker, about the width of two fingers, is a piece of translucent, mucous-green plastic with orange and silver highlights. Want to know the name of that song on the radio? Press the button, and the eMarker "bookmarks" it by recording the time. It later uploads the data to a Windows 98 or Windows 2000 computer through a Universal Serial Bus docking station.
A companion Web site, eMarker.com, hosts your personal online eMarker library. To sign up, you first must answer a few personal questions, including your ZIP code, gender, three favorite radio stations, and how many music CDs you purchase per month. Unfortunately, the eMarker doesnt work with any classical or jazz stations, though Sony says it will add those over time.
Only 10 songs can fit into the eMarker at a time, but theres no real limit to the number of bookmarks you can store on your personal eMarker page. The site provides song clips and other information, and a "buy" button links to Amazon.com or CDnow Online to let you purchase CDs.
My 15-year-old male assistant labeled this "cool" after testing it for a day. He also tried to test the buy feature before cooler (older) heads prevailed.
The timestamp is the trick to the whole thing. The eMarker taps into data provided by Broadcast Data Systems, a company that monitors radio station playlists, to show the track played by your favorite station at the recorded time. It works best if you stick with just one radio station; to get song info from other stations, you have to manually change the settings for each bookmark.
An interesting combination of device and service, the eMarker technology could spread to any kind of mobile device that has a clock and can interface with a computer. It probably wont revolutionize music buying, but it gives a glimpse into a fascinating future consumer world: Anything you want to get more information about can be bookmarked, and later purchased via your friendly PC.