mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

More thoughts on the phone as MP3 player...

A reader had an interesting comment on my earlier post on why I don't think that cell phones with MP3 players will replace the iPod. He pointed out that Apple has been working with Motorola to develop an iTunes-compatible phone, and that an Apple-designed interface would combine the advantages of the iPod's easy to use interface with a cell phone.

It's an interesting thought, but I don't really agree. Why

here are my MP3 players - a 10 gig firewire iPod and a 1 gig shuffle.

here is my phone - a Motorola i95cl

So what do these pictures show, beyond the fact that I suck at taking close-ups of stationary objects, and that I'm so messy that I use empty cardboard boxes for furniture?

Well, the iPod Shuffle has 3 buttons/switches on it, counting the jog wheel as one button. The iPod has 7, if you count each of the four buttons as seperate (since they are actual physical buttons on this model) and the touch wheel as a button. The cell phone, on the other hand, has 23 (counting the volume up/down and the jog wheel as one button each).

See, cell phones have to have lots of numbers on them, because that's how people are used to dialing phones. MP3 players don't. All you really do is go forward/back, play/pause, and change the volume and mode. Adding an MP3 player to a phone either means adding extra menus to the current setup and using the current buttons to navigate, or adding even more buttons for the MP3 player. That is going to be a challange that I think any interface designer will have trouble overcoming.

The other I think makes it harder is the convergence between something and cell phones that is already happening- but not MP3 players or cameras. I'm talking email. It's one of the functions that Gates touted in his speech. It's also a big part of many people's buisness world, as Treos and RIM BlackBerries and other handheld messanging devices with phones built in become popular. Email and the cell go together, and are useful. But being able to send emails means being able to type, and that means having 26 keys for the alphabet, plus punctuation.

We have a BlackBerry where I work, and it's bulky, and the interface isn't real great. It's hard to imagine using it as an MP3 player. And while the bulk will go down and the interface will improve, nobody can get past the fact that MP3 players don't need a lot of buttons, while cell phones and wireless messanging devices do - and that creates a device that is going to be both physically imposing and with a very complex interface - the two things most people don't want in an MP3 player.


At 8:30 AM, Blogger Brian said...

I see your point but I think interface is a minor problem that most people won't care too much about. With the decline in voice ARPU, as a result of service providers looking for data ARPU to suppliment the decline there has been such a proliferation of clutter that clutter has become mostly accepted by consumers as a given on any new phone. You personally may not like the clutter of a few more buttons on your mp3 player or cell phone but personally I would rather have a few more buttons on one device than have to carry around another device altogether. Also currently to use an mp3 player you need to have a computer, preferably with a high speed broadband connection. With an mp3/cell phone combo you skip this process all together. Look at it as an mp3 player in which you can download songs directly onto it rather than having to connect through an intermediary computer. This simplifies the use of an mp3 player by eliminating one more step of the process. From a marketing perspective I can see two significant advantages. 1) The penetration of cell phones is higher than the penetration of computers with internet access. So there is an untapped market segment that can't yet use mp3 players. This combo device addresses that market that no other device currently does. 2) Being able to download songs on the fly lends itself more to impulse purchase. When people can buy on impulse they tend to spend more. As a business you want your consumers to have to make as little effort as possible to get your product. Any friction between the desire to purchase and the effort required to purchase only gives people opportunity to decide not to buy.

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Brian said...

I should also point out that this is not an either/or scenerio. Some people may still prefer to have two seperate devices. It would be wrong to assume that a combo device would replace stand alone mp3 players altogether. But I think the addressable market for such a combo device would be large enough that it would take a significant percentage of overall sales.

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The device you should look at to see what a cell phone/mp3 player looks like is the Treo 650. I carry it all the time and what I'm finding is that its in my pocket when I'm in the car or on the plane and thus is actually there with music on it. The music player you have with you is more interesting than the player you forgot to pick up.



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