April 2, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Apple's long shadow over mobile music

The wireless industry is finally offering a long list of phones with the music features some pundits have long predicted would diminish Apple's control of the market for digital music.

Last week at the CTIA Wireless trade show in Orlando, Fla., Sprint Nextel reduced the price of its over-the-air music downloads to 99 cents per song, while AT&T announced it would offer new subscribers free access to the Napster music service for a year. Handset makers Samsung and Sony Ericsson introduced their latest music-focused phones, and mobile virtual network operator Helio introduced a new device specifically designed for tunes.

But guess what? The most talked-about and sought-after device at the three-day conference was Apple's iPhone, which wasn't showcased at CTIA and doesn't even ship until June.

"I think 2007 will be a huge year for mobile music," said John Burris, vice president of data services at Sprint. "There won't be anyone who doesn't know that a mobile phone will be able to play music."

But will they want it if it's not made by Apple? There are still lots of issues that need to be worked out before mobile music can really live up to the hype, say experts. From their difficulties with incompatible digital rights management technology to their struggles with short battery lives and poor user interfaces, mobile operators and handset makers have a long way to go before the experience of purchasing and listening to music on mobile phones--even the ones made by Apple--lives up to consumer expectations.

"I think the hype around the iPhone has confused people, because many consumers aren't aware of what music phones can and can't do."
--Suzanne Cross, head of marketing, Sony Ericsson

"Apple is known for hitting home runs consistently," said Suzanne Cross, head of marketing for Sony Ericsson. "But I think the hype around the iPhone has confused people, because many consumers aren't aware of what music phones can and can't do. So (phone makers) have to make sure expectations are met and the consumer experience is positive."

The wireless and handset industry has been trying to jump on the mobile music craze for years. In 2005, Cingular Wireless, now the new AT&T, launched Motorola's Rokr, a music phone that allowed subscribers to play songs from the iTunes music store. But the Rokr was a major flop. The phone had limited memory capacity and allowed only 100 songs to be stored.

Other phones have been introduced that also offer music-playing capability, such as Motorola's Razr and Krazr, but few consumers believe they are replacements for an iPod or any other MP3 music player. When used to play music, most of these phones run out of battery life very quickly. Using them to navigate through the music library can also be difficult, and loading songs can be cumbersome.

Mark Nagel, director of premium content at AT&T, said the company learned a lot from the Rokr experience. As a result, AT&T is not only adding new phones, such as the iPhone, to its lineup, but it's also introduced a subscription-model service that will allow consumers to pay a monthly fee to listen to as much music as they like from services like Napster and Yahoo. To promote this business, the company is offering new subscribers a free subscription to Napster for a year.

Mobile music ready for prime time?
There are signs that mobile music is catching on. Record companies' digital music sales are estimated to have nearly doubled in value in 2006, generating about $2 billion in revenue, according to the industry group IFPI, which is affiliated with the Recording Industry Association of America. Mobile music accounted for half of this revenue. The split varied greatly among markets around the world, with Japan leading the pack with around 90 percent of its digital music sales accounted for by mobile purchases.

New phones specifically designed for music will likely fuel the trend. At least three new music phones were introduced at CTIA. The Ocean, a new handset manufactured by Pantech for Helio, is designed to help alleviate some of the issues plaguing earlier phones, such as short battery life. For example, it uses a separate microprocessor to run the media player, which Helio claims allows the device to play up to 15 hours of music on a single battery charge. The phone will be available later this year and will cost about $295 with a two-year contract.

Samsung's Upstage, available through Sprint, is a "flip" phone with one side designed to be a regular phone and the other designed to play music. The regular phone side has a number pad and small screen for dialing calls and typing text messages. The other side looks like an MP3 music player, with a large screen and touch-sensitive controls that allow the user to navigate through a song library and view videos. There's a button that lets users switch between the sides and functions of the phone, which costs $149 with a two-year Sprint contract.

CONTINUED: The download dilemma…
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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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