Tuesday 26 February 2008

We Have Seen The Future Of Rock And Roll…And It’s Complicated: Mobile Internet (Part 4)

When the last proper music shop in your town closed in early 2009 you finally saw the need to buy a Google mobile phone. It’s not as design-sexy as the iPhone, but Apple’s refusal to allow other services to compete with iTunes forced your decision. The gPhone, by contrast, is like a laptop in your pocket. The Arcade Fire has finally released what has been a difficult third album and while you could go to Pirate Bay and download it via BitTorrent, because part of your monthly online fee allows it, you opt for the higher quality available at Tesco Online. As the album downloads to the phone a screen message promotes the group’s music videos on YouTube. Again, it’s a url away.

After years of promises, the Internet is finally moving to the mobile phone and that will mean big changes for music. By 2010 it’s estimated there will be 4 billion mobiles in the world, dwarfing the number of computers. With the gPhone, Google is betting their business can grow just as big. There’s no official news yet but patents are on file and designs leaked to tech blogs.

Phones like the gPhone, iPhone and some Nokias use wi-fi for Internet connection. It means music and videos can download faster than on 3G and the evangelists say that soon not just mobile music and video downloads will be common, but Internet radio, live concert TV and on-demand videos. The only downside is the cost of all that data. Mobile operators hate low charges. Although making both texts and phone calls cheap has seen their profits rise dramatically they want to be sexy, modern and leading-edge; make mobile Internet access really cheap and they become a utility like British Gas or, heaven forbid, BT. At the same time they’re trying to be your Internet gateway for mobile, pc, TV and regular phone – what Richard Branson cheekily calls “four-play”.

In their marketing to make you a customer, operators have spent years trying to become media companies. In Korea – the most wired country on the planet – the giant SK Telecom even bought a big local music company. But the obvious candidates to make deals with music and film companies are the phone manufacturers, who sell almost a billion phones a year to a global market. “When parts of EMI are put out to tender by its new owners,” predicts Ackenhoff, “It’s not crazy to think that a mobile operator or device manufacturer may well take a chunk.”

2008 is a transition year. Mobiles have been pocket computers for quite awhile but the iPhone’s functionality and originality has made a big impact. By year-end expect to see more mobiles being sold as media players that also make phone calls. Nokia will try to become your indispensable mobile assistant, storing Facebook profile, interactive contact list, photo books, maps and music in one place for easy access. Comes With Music won’t be a big success but Tesco Music might. The country’s biggest supermarket has quietly become a very successful mobile network. They dominate physical music sales, so why not move it online and onto your mobile?

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Music Labels
Part 3: Live Performance

Part 5: Radio

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