2006 Predictions 11 and 12

11. It will become common for low-end devices for emerging markets to have color screens and cameras.

12. Myopic thinking, bad pricing and pointless services will continue keep mobile music from realizing its potential.

I’m thinking this one is a slam dunk for Russell’s year-end review next December, but I don’t want to get too over-confident. Still, I can’t help but feel this one’s a little too easy to predict. Alongside mobile TV, operators won’t shut up about mobile music. But, like so many things, theire understanding and implementation of it is off-base.

Operators want to put themselves at the middle of users’ music experiences, and replace the iTunes Music Store, Napster, and any place else from which they buy music, online or off, and they think that offering dual-delivery downloads to both mobile and PC will help them accomplish this, and also justifies prices much higher than the typical online services.

They need to accept that people are never going to buy all their music from their mobile operator — they’ve never bought their music from just one source, whether it was one particular record store or another, or Starbucks or Amazon or Target. Operators assume they can replace these sources, many of which feed on providing instant gratification, because people can now by music anytime, anywhere. But seeing a CD at Starbucks and deciding to buy it along with your latte is very different than thinking, “hey, I want that new Bob Dylan CD *right now*” and whipping out your phone and paying $2.50 a track for it.

Another problem is that people don’t compartmentalize their music into “music I can listen to on my stereo,” “music I can listen to on my computer,” “music I can listen to on my MP3 player,” and they won’t add “music I can listen to on my phone”. People just have their music, and expect it to travel across all their playback devices. The problem with dual-delivery isn’t getting music bought on the phone to the PC, but getting it from the PC to other portable devices. But looming even larger is the difficulty, if not inability (depending on the operator and handset), to get music users already own — regardless of the source — onto their phone.

To blame this on mobile operators isn’t fair. I prefer to blame the entire music industry that’s forced the adoption of copy-protection technologies, and companies that are happy to implement them because they provide a significant amount of lock-in to particular products and services. The problem is all the lock out that occurs on the flip side. If mobile operators really wanted to make waves in the music download business, they’d do everything they could to foster interoperability — let users play songs on their phones from any store, let songs from their store play on any device, and so on.

But, of course, if they let people do that, there’s the potential they’d never buy anything from the operator. Forcing customers to use their store if they want to listen to music on their phones forces them to make a choice — use the operator store, or don’t use the phone for music. That’s a zero-sum game, and one they’re not likely to win.

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