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January 07, 2007

Can Apple revolutionize the mobile industry? Part II

Posted in: Apple, Carriers & Network Operators, Music Phone, OEMs, Observations

The following was my response since I couldn’t let Jared have all the fun. This question was asked a few days ago on the Adaptive Path blog.

It’s a broad question, but I think it’s really about whether Apple can launch a successful music phone. The iPod is the perfect music player and people are cheering Apple in hopes to get the perfect phone.

The current industry model of carriers and OEMs partnering to create a compelling music phone has had pretty limited success — for example, even though the Motorola ROKR partnered with Cingular to bring Apple’s iTunes and was marketed in unprecedented ways it was what basically a flop by Motorola’s standards because it failed on it’s primary promise to be a music phone. (Engadget reported that 1 in 6 ROKRs got returned). That carrier/OEM dynamic is possibly what’s at stake if Apple succeeds.

Consider this: with ringtone sales on the decline (which is a first in the US), carriers are the ones who stand to lose on the R&D spent developing a music phone offering (since they won’t get paid from data and music sales if everybody’s side-loading their music ala the iPod method). It’s the handset manufacturers (OEMs) that serve the carriers, and these OEMs are the ones who stand to gain from a hot handset that could deliver a compelling music experience.

What’s wrong with the current crop of “music phones”:

  • Poor battery life when you actually listen to music
  • Inability to manage playlists (there’s nothing that can kill a music experience faster than hearing a carrier’s cutesy ringtone that cannot be moved or deleted in the middle of a Snow Patrol set)
  • Proprietary headphones. (You mean, I can’t listen with my nice headphones and I have to use the ones that came with the device?)
  • Very limited storage capacity
  • Slow and sometimes non-existent ability to side-load music files

Apple has the hardware, software and content down to a science. They have a proven track record for combining great hardware and software engineering, plus the critical user insight needed to get it right.

On the content side, they’ve come from a desktop paradigm that users are comfortable with. With iTunes and iPod, they have shown that an open system that accepts standard music formats, accepts standard headphones and syncs with any personal computer — is much better than the closed system consumers experience on their mobile handsets.

So, the revolution just might be that the industry recognizes the need to meet users’ expectations better. But, for me personally, I just want fewer devices to carry around and I can’t do that until I have a music phone that actually rocks.

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