Battle for the Soul of the MP3 Phone

Wired writes in a story about what went wrong with the ROKR phone: “Consumers want an iPod phone that will play any song, anytime, anywhere. Just four little problems: the cell carriers, the record labels, the handset makers, and Apple itself.”

What should a music phone offer? The specs aren’t hard to figure out. For starters, it should have clearly marked Pause and Play buttons so as not to trip up people like Steve Jobs. It should sync quickly and easily with your computer, and you should be able to use it to buy music at a reasonable price. It should play music from iTunes or any other music service. You should be able to choose different amounts of memory, and whatever you decide on, it shouldn’t be constrained to 100 songs – or any other arbitrary limit.

None of this is difficult. The technology to make a cell phone do double duty as an MP3 player is readily available. Motorola and other companies have been selling phones that play music in Europe and Asia for a couple of years now – handsets with lots of memory and serious audio capabilities. And with the iPod, Apple showed how to turn an ordinary MP3 player into a great one. Put it all together and you get – the ROKR? How does a great idea get this botched?

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