The run-up to the holiday season always begins in September, and while I was overseas with no Internet access, the music and technology industries kept on churning. Fortunately for me, nothing's really changed. To wit:
SanDisk, in collaboration with the four major labels, announced a new physical format for albums called SlotMusic. You'll be able to pay between $7 and $10 and get a full album on a MicroSD card, which you'll then be able to plug into compatible cellphones or MP3 players to begin playing the MP3 files encoded at 320kbps. This one boggles me. If you need a physical artifact, CDs still exist, they play in billions of devices (car, computer, home stereo), they offer much higher quality sound, they have liner notes, and anybody with enough tech knowledge to know what a MicroSD card is can certainly figure out how to rip a CD to their hard drive and transfer the songs to an MP3 player. So why would I pay a dime for a tiny, easy-to-misplace "album" that offers lower-quality sound and compatibility with far fewer devices? Next.
MySpace Music launched with the support of the four major labels. This one has a huge built-in userbase, but the distribution model's all wrong: label-driven and top-down, unlike Imeem, where users post all the music. If I want to hear a song on demand--to see if I like a particular band, or just to satisfy a moment of curiosity--I'll go to the site with the largest selection, which is likely to be Imeem. If I want to buy a song, I'll do it in the store affiliated with my MP3 player of choice--iTunes, Zune Marketplace or (if I must) Amazon MP3. So what's the point of this service again, other than a too-little too-late attempt by the labels to capitalize on the MySpace name? Next.
Google and T-Mobile announced and demonstrated the first phone based on Google's Android operating system, the T-Mobile G1, manufactured by HTC. It's an obvious bid to compete in the consumer smartphone market, which was first tapped by Apple with the iPhone (before that, smartphones were generally business devices--think Blackberry and Windows Mobile). To compete in that space, there has to be an iTunes equivalent, so it's going to ship with a mobile music player that connects to a mobile version of Amazon's MP3 store. Call me a skeptic. I've tried the Amazon store and found it to be an exercise in frustration. So without having seen the G1 in person, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that, at launch, the Amazon/Android app's going to fall way short of iTunes when it comes to ease of use. Give it a couple revs to catch up, but at launch, this won't change the competitive picture.