The sorry state of MP3 phones
I’m probably the 100% hit on any target group analysis for MP3 phones: I’m on the road for 3 to 4 hours per day, I’m listening to podcasts every single day, I *love* music – so why do I not own an MP3 phone?
God knows I’ve tried: I’ve had a Motorola ROKR, a few Windows Mobile phones, Nokia S40 and S60 phones, plus a few SonyEricsson ones. About the only brand I’ve stayed away from so far has been Samsung.
Unfortunately, they all have a major issue that make them unpractical for me: They are a mess to sync with any MP3 application on my PC.
So far, I’ve been using iTunes to manage my MP3 collection and podcasts. It’s not that I’m into DRM, but it just works for me:
- I don’t have to worry about keeping my folder structure and file names consistent – iTunes does that for me, based on ID3 tags. That also makes it worthwhile to keep the ID3 tags up to date.
- Music, Video and Podcasts in one application. I have some gripes with the podcasting part, but it’s still the package that does a better job than any of the alternatives
The ROKR could be seen in iTunes, but it doesn’t support automatic synching like iPods do. You have to drag files manually to the phone (and remove the unwanted ones). For daily updating podcasts, that’s quite a hassle.
Windows Mobile obviously does not play too well with iTunes, but at least WMP10 offers similar functionality. Unfortunately with a UI that’s completely unbearable for a long time iTunes user. Close, but no cigar.
Nokia and SonyEricsson completely ignore iTunes. Granted, there are a few applications to integrate into iTunes, but they involve a lot of manual activities, too. Also, the phones interfaces make accessing music and podcasts extremely difficult. They also lack a way to sync playlists – creating playlists on the phone is a completely useless (and annoying) exercise.
The new SonyEricsson Walkman phones (W800i, W810i, W850i etc.) look promising, but again: they don’t integrate into anything I already have. The are bundled with Disc2Phone software to rip CDs and transfer to the phone, but that would force me to re-organize all my MP3 to their management software.
I know that my little rant sounds as if I’m just looking for something that integrates into iTunes as well as my iPod (well, I do, that’s why I can’t wait for the iPhone…), but the underlying problem is an issue for everyone who’s in the market for an MP3 phone:
Most people who care enough about music to want an MP3 phone already have a decent selection of MP3s on their computers, and they won’t be too happy about the idea of having to re-organise them into some different software package.
You may have designed your playlists, added covers to tracks, rated tracks, have podcasts with playcounts, automatic best of/most recent/most listened lists – all that is probably a few days or weeks of work that is rendered worthless if you have to transfer it to a different application.
Also, most phones today have no way of feeding back information to a PC: if I listen to a podcast on the phone, the next connection to the PC needs to make sure this track gets deleted from the phone so that only new podcasts are on the phone. As of today, there is no podcast ready MP3 phone available that will show me if I have listened to a particular episode or not.
The SonyEricsson Walkman phones come pretty close. In my view, the lesson for phone software makers is simple: make sure the phone interface is closer to the iPod functionality than to that of a $20 MP3 USB stick, and don’t bother coming up with your own MP3 management software package. Either the user doesn’t care a lot about music, then USB mass storage is good enough. For everybody else, integration into existing music management software is the key to success (iTunes, WMP10/11, Winamp).