Author Topic: The Year of Living Musically  (Read 723 times)


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The Year of Living Musically
« on: December 14, 2004, 01:57:00 pm »
The Year of Living Musically
 ARTICLE DATE:  12.08.04
 By  Michael J. Miller
 Among all the cool products we saw in 2004, the Apple iPod made the biggest impact. Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, and even then it wasn't an entirely new concept. I've been playing music on my PC for over a decade. The first jukebox software came out in the late nineties, and the first hard drive‚??based portable music player I saw was from Creative Labs almost five years ago. But 2004 is the year when iPods proliferated, and people starting taking their music libraries with them everywhere.
 Why the iPod and why now? The answer is simple: It's the user interface. Apple has always made the easiest-to-use portable music players, and with the new click wheel on the iPod mini the UI got even better. It may not offer the most options for the most technical users, but it's really simple for someone who just wants to play music. The same is true for iTunes, Apple's jukebox and music store.
 I expect Apple will face more competition in the future, though I have yet to see a competitor that threatens the company's dominance. A number of new contenders are in the mini hard drive space, which Apple pioneered with the iPod mini. The Dell Pocket DJ costs less, and the Creative Zen Micro and the Rio Carbon have better battery life. I recently used the Zen Micro and liked it a lot. I especially like that I can replace the battery in the Zen Micro, so with two batteries I get an amazing amount of music-playing time. But let's face it, the iPod still has a slightly better user interface and a lot more name recognition.
 Among the larger units, Apple again has the best UI, as well as the biggest selection of products. I've been playing with an iPod Photo and it's very cool for showing a slide show of your photos while your music is playing. But if you really want an adjunct to a digital camera for storing photos, then the Archos Gmini400 may be a better bet.
 Apple doesn't offer a product for playing videos or recorded TV. The Archos and iRiver players do a reasonable job, and Microsoft has made it relatively easy on the Portable Media Centers from Creative, iRiver, and Samsung. So far, the Samsung YH-999 looks best. But Portable Media Centers require a Media Center PC to work with TV, and they still seem bulky and not quite ready for the mass market.
 Apple's biggest advantage may be how well the iPod works with iTunes, but that could also be a disadvantage. If you go the Windows Media route, you can choose from a lot more hardware and software options. And the Windows world also offers the ability to stream music, important for people who use a desktop primarily. Musicmatch On Demand, Napster, and Real Rhapsody provide access to huge libraries of music for about $10 a month.
 I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of playing rental music on a music player. The latest version of Windows Media DRM allows this, and it's implemented in Napster To Go and similar services. Filling your portable music player with as much music as you'd like for $15 a month is a more complicated proposition than buying music tracks, but it's particularly appealing for people who don't own a lot of music. I'm not quite sure why putting the music on a portable player should cost more than playing it on my PC, but that's something the music industry needs to figure out.
 If portable rental music gains traction, it could well become the biggest competition yet to the file-sharing services. I'm sure we'll see much more activity in rental music in the year to come on the Windows side of the market, and I wouldn't be surprised if Apple embraced the concept as well. Any way you look at it, people carrying around huge amounts of music‚??whether downloaded, rented, or ripped‚??is a trend that's here to stay.
 What has taken the rest of the market so long to catch up?  Rental Music (though I hate the name the author uses, it more like a temporary license becuase I don't have to return it, I just have to keep my license current) is the way to go.  When a new album comes out, I download it to my portable MP3 player or listen on my desktop. If I like it, I keep it and buy a copy of the CD when I find it used at Amoeba. If I don't like it I delete it.  Napster must do a better job of marketing this, and the rest of the digital music market needs to catch up.
 It's not just for people who don't own a lot of music.  It's for people who listen to a lot music and are tired of shelling out dough for crap.