By Ryan Bradley, senior editor
FORTUNE -- Jawbone, the bluetooth headset, health band, and speaker company, came out with a new speaker yesterday. It's smaller than the two other speakers Jawbone already makes -- half as small, in fact, as its predecessor, the Jambox, which is the bestselling speaker in its category -- and it comes in a choice of nine colors. Made out of a solid piece of aluminum that's both skin and skeleton, the new speaker, called the Mini Jambox, has a built-in battery that lasts 10 hours, and it's light enough (9 oz., or roughly the size and weight of two Hershey bars) to throw into a bag and carry anywhere.
Though the Mini costs as much ($179) as the first-generation Jambox, the company claims it "packs more volume" and has "even better audio clarity." There's the two-cent review -- pretty much all you need to know about the product itself.
But to stop there misses the point of something greater that Jawbone -- and all interesting companies that make things in the hopes that we, the consumer, will buy them -- is up to. Travis Bogard, who oversees product development at Jambox, put it like this: "How a product fits into your life is as important to us as the product itself."
The challenge to get a product to fit into people's lives, of course, goes far beyond just making it smaller or more portable. In fact, though the company claims the Mini Jambox is about half the size as the original Jambox, its footprint is similar. The Mini is narrower and lighter, sure, but not dramatically so. Its real virtue is more subtle: It is incredibly good at connecting wirelessly to other machines. No trivial thing, that.
A huge part of Apple's (AAPL) success has been due to how easy the company has made it to connect one of its devices to another. Once you get locked in to Apple you are, well, locked in. The ease with which one is able to adjust settings on your iPhone through your MacBook or share a file with your iPad, or maybe have it project on your television via Apple TV, is really the killer aspect of the Apple ecosystem, and the quality that keeps its customers so rabidly loyal.
Jawbone's previous speakers were pretty good at connecting to phones, tablets, and laptops as well. But to adjust the settings of the speakers required plugging it into a computer, then connecting to the Internet and pulling up the company's website -- a cumbersome process for a product that's, in theory, all about wire-cutting. Along with the release of the Mini, Jawbone is releasing the Jawbone App, which is both a fix to this and a shot across the bow to every other music service.
With the Jawbone App, which Bogart demonstrated for me, you can not only adjust the speaker's settings wirelessly, but also store playlists from iTunes, Spotify, and Rdio in a single interface. The idea is that this is the destination for your media listening on the go. The app wasn't yet available to the public, but I did take the Mini down to Mississippi with me over Labor Day weekend for a friend's wedding, and one moment stands out:
It was well after midnight, still hot, and a bunch of us were sitting around the stoop of the King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson, beer sweating in the warm southern night. Out comes the Jambox; on goes the Bo Diddley. People picked up the speaker -- it's cool-looking and cool to the touch. Eventually I stood up to turn in. As I did, a friend connected his phone to the speaker, taking control of the tunes. The music didn't skip a beat, even though his phone used an entirely different operating system (Google's Android (GOOG)) than my iPhone. The switch happened in just a few seconds, with no one but the two of us noticing. It felt a little bit like magic: our three different machines, acting in concert, communicating to make music and send it out into the hot Mississippi night.
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Online shopping is up nearly 20% this Christmas, according to comScore Inc. (see here), and electronics is one of the hottest categories, up 24% from last year. So what gadgets are Americans buying this holiday season?
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