April 2, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Apple's long shadow over mobile music

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Sony Ericsson, which has already been selling its Sony Walkman phones in the U.S. through AT&T, introduced its latest addition to the music playing family of phones this week. The W580 is a slider phone that the company claims can offer up to 30 hours of music playing time. Sony Ericsson didn't provide pricing information, and it hasn't announced which carrier will sell the phone. But given the company's relationship with AT&T, it's likely the phone will appear there first.

Then, of course, there is the iPhone, which, despite its absence at CTIA, still created a buzz. AT&T's COO Randall Stephenson said during a speech at the convention that 1 million people had already signed up on the Web asking for more information about the iPhone.

While new music-playing phones should spur excitement among consumers, there are still issues that need to be worked out. One of the major hurdles will be making sure people can buy and transfer music easily onto their wireless devices. The ability to download music over the air is seen as a crucial piece of this puzzle--and it's something the iPhone can't do.

"Isn't the whole point of putting music on a wireless device so you can download tracks over the air?" asked Sky Dayton, CEO of Helio. "I think that is a glaring omission in terms of the iPhone. It's great for side loading, but the lack of over-the-air downloading will be a huge disappointment to people."

Right now, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and Helio offer their own music stores with over-the-air downloads. Sprint announced this week that it has reduced the price of songs sold this way from $2.49 a song to 99 cents a song. Meanwhile, AT&T does not yet offer over-the-air downloads. This means subscribers use their PCs to purchase individual songs or access subscription services like Napster; then they can sync their phones to the PC to load the music onto their devices.

But Cross of Sony Ericsson said the industry is not quite ready for over-the-air downloads, because today songs purchased over a cellular network can be used only on specific handsets. The limitation is due in large part to the fact that mobile operators use different digital rights management technology to distribute copyrighted songs.

"The song is only playable on your phone," she said. "You can't transfer it to another MP3 device or burn it onto a CD. So the music has very limited use. And I don't think that is what consumers want."

Operators have tried to get around this limitation by sending copies of songs to subscribers' PCs. But Cross said the industry needs to rally around some sort of DRM standard so there is interoperability among devices. Until that happens, she doesn't believe mobile music will live up to its fullest potential.

"Over-the air downloading isn't nirvana, but it's necessary to grow the market," she said. "And today when people download music on their laptops, they expect to reuse it on other devices. As an industry, we have to be careful about educating people what they can and can't do with their music or risk disappointing them."

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13 comments

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Wireless music purchase probably not hard to do
The iPhone can do wireless. And EDGE. Wouldn't be too hard to allow the built-in media-player to get material from iTunes Store - but I doubt the price would be right.

The in-handset music purchase idea has a mortal enemy: Bandwidth costs. How much is the data transfer costs for 4 megs of high-quality audio?

Thought so. No over-the-network downloads yet.

So the iPhone does the other thing: To allow the users to easily push their (il)legal music to the iPhone.
Posted by jpsalvesen (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Simple Solution - Get Rid of DRM
Since consumers don't want DRM-"protected" music for their cellphones, why not offer the tracks without DRM? Then consumers could use the tracks to burn CDs to play in their cars, etc.

DRM just compounds the "the great thing about standards is there are so many to choose from" issue. As it is, for unprotected digital music, we have MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG and I don't know how many other compression methods.

I feel it needs to be simple and easy-to-use to be broadly adopted.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly right!
DRM only punishes the innocent, because the guilty always break it anyway. But, as long as you have companies like Sony who view all people as criminals waiting to happen and expect consumers to do whatever they command them to do, then we will never be free of the DRM scourge. And cell-phone music will continue to fail.
Posted by i_am_still_wade (250 comments )
Link Flag
Just Say NO!
Overpriced Ipod, Proprietary ITunes, Very overpriced IPhone, JUST SAY NO!!!!!
Posted by coachgeorge (233 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh please.
Underpriced Zune, open-source Windows Media Player... oh wait.. back to reality. :)
Posted by OscarWeb (76 comments )
Link Flag
OK ... NO I WONT LISTEN TO YOU
eom
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
Its not that its hard...
it just goes against Apple's model. Not to defend or put them down, Apple's model is one where you download a song and then you are responsible for backing it up on to a CD. If you loose your song you have to buy a new one. If the iPhone allowed for over the air downloading you would not be able to make a backup of your song.
Posted by orbital318 (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Says who?
We already know that iTunes on the iPhone will sync with iTunes on
your computer, so how would backups be a problem?
Posted by Macsaresafer (802 comments )
Link Flag
I must give props to Sprint (for once)
Let me put this out there first: I will not subscribe to Sprint for various reasons (most of them being the same reasons why I won't subscribe to Cingular/AT&T), but they do have a new feature that Apple/Cingular/AT&T should copy immediately for the iPhone model:

The user downloads a song OVER THE AIR for 99 cents and they get a backup of the mp3 on their computer at no additional cost. Now that's sweet!
Posted by toosday (343 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Apple haters
Are going to have to stand back a little this morning. The Jobs
did it again.

I for one have never seen the appeal of "downloading music to
the phone directly." Yeah? Anybody want to pay what they'll want
for a 256 kbps file without DRM? If I hear a song, I have to wait
until I can open iTunes on my computer -- any of my five
allowed, Windows or Mac -- and adding the track. Then I sync
with the iPhone, or the iPod, or the Apple TV.

So are people depraved enough that they want to pay Cingular/
Sprint/etc. to download a tune immediately? Do you have access
to 2.5 million tracks? With a keyboard and a database like
Apple's?

This issue seems to me like the infamous FM tuner issue. You
hear people saying the iPod is no good, because it doesn't have
a tuner, without regard for the fact that there's no evidence that
the market wants it.
Posted by swift2--2008 (197 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Creative :)
I'm actually quite happy with my Zen Vision:M with FM tuner, and record capabilities. I decided on the device mainly because if those options, so yes, there is a market for it.
Posted by ben::zen (127 comments )
Link Flag
Consumers Not Morons, Telcos Are
Consumers know all they need to know about their cell phone and cell phone choices - how did the ROKR sell with its 50/100 itunes song limit? Consumers are not morons - we look & decide. Everyday they pump out a new phone and basically say "shiiinnnneeeeyyyy."

But we're not morons. We don't really want to pay $15.99 or $16.49 to buy ONE song per month EVEN if we can buy it while we're walking around - not when we can go home and it's "free" via our CD or downloads (even legally - many artists offer free songs on their webpage). We know how to transfer a song over - just because they are morons doesn't mean we are.

They price like bureaucrats thinking we are "stuck" and have to pay like it's water overflow or gas surcharge - we will buy what we want.

They have also designed in chaoots or because the cell phone companies are lame the worst UI on the planet and they've been at it for 10+ years! They happily truimph they sell 1 billioon phones a year - name ONE phone with a great UI review? There's always something stupid, "If you talk, you can power the phone off with your thumb - be careful."

They are the morons. We're not so bright to keep giving them money but we're not morons.
Posted by jbelkin (167 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where's the iPod killer?
You do not get the latest phones from other top manufacturers like Nokia or Sony-Ericcson here in US and which are widely available in Europe and Asia. They are feature rich..play music better than those available in US.
Posted by Bagavathi (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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