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Stepping forward again with Mobile Music...

POSTED BY Global Administrator
It is probably fair to say that, for many forms of mobile entertainment, progress is often a case of two steps forward, one step back; that during those two steps forward, the analyst community (and, if it’s a particularly big step that makes a lot of noise, mainstream journalists and thereby the wider public) is deluged in information about product launches that are going to drive that form of mobile entertainment into overdrive. Then you have the step back, when the grim realization dawns that there is only a limited correlation between the number of people standing at a bus stop who, when asked whether they would purchase that form of mobile entertainment, have answered in the affirmative, and those who subsequently cough up the required moulah for said service. There have been any number of reasons for this: because they can’t find the service on the phone; because when they find it, they can’t download it; because they’ve tried a similar service before and it wasn’t very good; because you didn’t tell us about the extra data costs; because they want to catch the bus and want the strange man holding the clipboard to go away and bother someone else, and so have just said “yes” to expedite this process. Mobile music (at least, the non-ringtone part of the business) is a perfect paradigm of this. It’s nearly six and a half years now since O2 launched the first European master recording distribution service with O2 Music: owing to the fact that handsets in those days had the storage capacity of an amoeba’s brain, consumers were obliged to store and listen to the tracks on a separate Digital Music Player. There was, I recall, a Big Noise about this in the media at the time, but then all those “becauses” I’ve alluded to above kicked in (added to the case specific one that you needed to carry another device around with) and, well, it didn’t set the world on fire. Fast forward a few years, to 2007. Mobile voice revenues are going down, and slowly vendors and operators are realizing that digital music presents an opportunity to in part redress the balance. Network operators have cut deals with the major record labels and are rolling out a range of full track download services (the more enlightened have started to offer dual download options); Sony Ericsson is expanding its range of Walkman handsets; Nokia is offering the Xpress Music series of devices, together with a Music Store, and at the end of the year announces the forthcoming Comes With Music unlimited download service; Omnifone partners with Vodafone to offer unlimited subscription-based access to full tracks. Oh, and Apple launched the first version of the iPhone, but more of Apple and iPhones anon. More publicity, more becauses; while some of these products and services (and others besides) achieved a modicum of success (heck, even I downloaded a few track to my mobile around this time, and that’s saying something), there was the groundswell of opinion that while the opportunity remained, most deployments left a little to be desired. And so mobile music went back into its shell for a little while, tucked away in the occasional press release announcing a music-related app launch as the world fell in love with the App Store. But suddenly – whether it’s spring, whether it’s CTIA – music is headline news again. A few examples that have hit the wires over the past few days: Thumbplay is launching a cloud-based mobile service, incorporating Amazon’s Mobile Payments Service, and will offer subscription and a la carte options… MOG is launching "an all-you-can-eat streaming application optimized for the iPhone and Android platforms" priced at $10 per month which also offers users to "download content to a local cache for offline listening"… Shazam has passed 1 million downloads on Nokia’s Ovi StoreAT&T has announced a music app offering 40 streamed radio stations, generate playlists, search for lyrics and ID tracks… Slacker Radio has launched a Windows Mobile App… Another two steps forward, then. But before we lift our leg to take that step back, pause a moment, and glance back at paragraph one. For even if the industry hasn’t got rid of those becauses, it’s addressed them to a significant extent, largely because it had to after Apple, the iPhone 3G and the App Store told it that it had to get its act together if it wanted to keep up. So you can now find the services; you can download the tracks with comparable ease; the iPhone 3G is so lovely that you’ve forgotten about that rotten experience you had last time; and, you’ve probably got an all-you-can-eat data bundle. Problems alleviated, if not solved. But that man is still there with the clipboard. Look, here’s my bus, simply must dash…