Music To Lead Mobile Content Uptake? - InformationWeek

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Commentary
1/23/2008
02:52 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
Commentary
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Music To Lead Mobile Content Uptake?

Juniper Research's latest report says music will continue to drive mobile content adoption. I have to ask, has anyone at Juniper ever used mobile music services?

Juniper Research's latest report says music will continue to drive mobile content adoption. I have to ask, has anyone at Juniper ever used mobile music services?First let's take a look at what Juniper says about mobile music.

The report says that mobile music will remain the largest single sector of the mobile entertainment industry over the next five years. Revenues from music will rise from nearly $9 billion in 2007 to $17.5 billion in 2012, bolstered by the increasing availability of full-track download and streamed services, the former in both paid-for and rental formats.

I have tested nearly every mobile music service there is on dozens of phones. None of them are great, and many of them are actually painful to use. Browsing through mobile music stores is nearly futile. Unless you're looking for a top 40 hit, finding what you want can take many, many steps. And unless you're downloading via a 3G network, snagging the tunes over the air is a hit-or-miss process. To be honest, I spend more time figuring out how to download and organize music than I actually do listening to it.

What about sideloading, you ask? Also problematic. Every carrier and device handles music differently. Some, for example, need the music to be in a folder with a specific name in order for the phone to see it. So you have to organize it in a specific way before you can use it. Not all phones sync with iTunes or Windows Media Player, forcing you to drag and drop with the phone in mass storage mode. Not all phones play all codecs. Not all phones can use all the different types of storage cards (though microSD is becoming the de facto industry standard). Not all phones support stereo Bluetooth, and even the ones that do don't all work properly.

And then there's the player user interface to consider. The music UIs are often the same across carriers, if not manufacturers. They each offer different experiences that vary greatly in terms of quality and usability. There often also are hardware hurdles to overcome. The bulk of phones still have 2.5-mm headphone jacks, rather than the standard 3.5-mm jack. Many also have proprietary ports that require an adapter before you can plug in a standard pair of headphones. Yes, even on music-centric phones.

One positive step that some mobile music services have taken is to offer one version of the song at a lower bit rate for the phone and a higher bit-rate version that's downloadable to a PC. This model makes sense, but pricing schemes often don't. Charging $2 or $1.49 for downloads is too much.

There are some pretty good ancillary mobile music services, such as TrackID, for helping you get track names and artist information. Another interesting service is mobile XM Radio. For a monthly subscription, you have access to a predetermined-set of XM Radio stations. The quality was decent on the models I have tested with this service and the selection of stations was decent, though it didn't really reflect the breadth of regular XM Radio stations.

The real problem is that there are too many hands in the pot. The handset vendors, network operators, software providers, music labels, artists, and various other entities all have an interest in earning a buck. The likelihood of them all agreeing to work together to make mobile music a better experience is not something I am willing to place money on.

Are people using their phones as mobile music players more and more? Sure. Will mobile music continue to contribute a significant portion of mobile content? Sure.

Even so, mobile music has a long way to go. It's just not easy -- or uniform -- enough to use.

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