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iPod Killers?

Posted by: Heather Green on May 25, 2005

With everyone talking about how cell phones will or will not be iPod killers these days, let’s just get one thing straight.

When we wrote a story entitled iPod Killers? we didn’t take it literally and neither should the rest of the world. It’s a phrase that describes gadgets that are aiming for the same market as iPod—portable music players. But we weren’t saying when we wrote that story that cell phones would obliterate iPods from the earth. Do they have the potential and intention of eating into the iPod marketshare? Sure.

Now, to address a couple of things that Wall Street Journal (unfortunately behind a firewall) brought up in a May 23 column entitled "Adding Music Players to Cellphones Won't be the IPod Killers Some Think."

Certainly, cell phones lag the iPod in design. But, based on what I have seen from companies such as Samsung and software makers such as Melodeo, it's a little early to write off whether cell phones can offer a good experience to music lovers.

Next, skeptics who doubt that people will download music say that people--at least in the U.S.--really only want to use their phones for calling and maybe SMS. Look, these skeptics say, at anecdotal evidence that people don't want to send photos wirelessly, as the carriers had hope. To back up this point, they often point to data such as the recent JupiterResearch studies that find a majority of people won't pay to send a photo to a phone if they have to pay 30 cents or find a waning interest in sending pictures from phones to an email address or PC.

The analogy with photos, I think, is misleading. It's still a pain to send photos between wireless carriers because they don't make it easy for their systems to connect. That could be the reason for the declining interest. When it comes to music, though, cell phone carriers have shown that they can easily zap ringtones wirelessly to the phone, creating a multi-billion business.

Indeed, it's when it comes to the business of wireless music services that cell phone companies hit their biggest hurdle. If they want to be competitive with Apple, they will have to accept that they must charge the same price 99 cents that iTunes charges. And they ahve to the same flexibility that people are accustomed to with their music.

Otherwise, they won't have a chance at even being an iPod wannabe, let alone an iPod killer.

Reader Comments


May 25, 2005 11:52 PM

To me the biggest hurdle is that I need the battery power for calls. I'm not going to waste it on music.

Heather Green

May 26, 2005 9:35 AM

I am with you, that the battery life will be a big issue. I know the cell phone makers are working on this, but again, that's one of the issues they're going to have to be serious about.

steve baker

May 26, 2005 12:25 PM

If you consider Moore's law, steady advances in storage and the probability of great leaps in battery technology (perhaps through nano-enabled fuel cells), within two or three years, gadget makers will be able to easily bundle full iPod capabilities within the phone without having to worry about weight, space or battery life. The key challenges, I think, will be design and interface.

Carlo Longino

May 26, 2005 2:59 PM

Steve's right, design and interface will be crucial. I thought the WSJ column was a bit off-base, and fell into a pretty usual trap: assuming that music-playing mobile phones won't evolve beyond the initial models. The first round of handsets with hard drives and other music functionalities won't unseat the iPod, but just as the iPod has gotten better over its lifetime, so too will music handsets. It's safe to say the iPod is safe in the short term, but things are far from clear if you look a little further down the road.

More at:

Gil Wormac

December 29, 2006 5:14 PM

I think that Cell phones are just too complex as it is. The idea that companies are able to bring more value to the cell phone market with more features is just wrong. Samsung has included music features in their phones since just after the iPod came out. Now they're including camera's, PDA features, live TV and GPS (WTF)? And look at the number of phones that flood the market, and that's just from Samsung; not to mention other major players LG, Moto, Sony-Ericsson or Nokia, who are now calling their new phones 'Multimedia Computers'. While tech geeks drool over all the features, average users don't get it. Cell phones can't take over the digital music space occupied by the iPod because they can't even clearly define their own cell phone market! Simple, elegant solutions to a certain need or to a particular market segment is what becomes successful. That's the iPod. Clearly defining and exploiting market growth potential has been Apple's strengths of late, I don't see any consumer tech company challenging that anytime soon.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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