Motorola-built iPod Phone next week? Not worth looking at, say pundits

User interface is the problem, not the solution

It's been an open secret for a while now that Apple wasn't going to let Sony Ericsson's "Walkman phone" become a market leader in the new market for a combined music/comms toy. Word on the street says that the new phone/player will be announced next week, Sept 7th.

That Apple is planning a big launch is known. The invites went out this week - much to the astonishment of Apple subsidiary FileMaker, which had already invited the top "industry opinion formers" to an announcement of its own - but that there will be an iTunes phone is now accepted as fact, as is the unconfirmed report that the phone will be sold in North America through the Cingular network.

But either Apple has kept the thing under unprecedented security, or else it has a dud on its hands. According to Forbes reporters David M. Ewalt and Peter Kafka, it's no rival to MP3-playing phones. For a start, the music will be costly to download, at $2 a tune; but first leaks suggest that won't matter, because you won't be able to download enough to break the bank.

"A person who has seen a version of the phone says it was designed to accommodate just 25 songs, which would be 'sideloaded' from a user's computer using iTunes," said Forbes. "The phone was equipped with a 128-megabyte Sandisk TransFlash memory card -just one-quarter the capacity of Apple's smallest iPod, the 512-megabyte Shuffle, which holds about 120 songs."

Bad news, but not the whole story, say sources, including Best Syndication, which says, confidently that "The iPod phone will be available in two models. Customers will have a choice between 512MB or 1GB of storage. The 1GB model can hold up to 240 songs." Forbes acknowledges that it hasn't seen all possible prototypes.

The phone-pod is also scheduled for a European launch, says Reuters, with Germany's T-Mobile, choosing the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin to announce "a musical mobile phone that can access iTunes, made by US vendor Motorola," which will be available "by Christmas" in Germany.

Analysis

In amongst the dozens of speculative stories circulating, there seems to be no scepticism (well, apart from Ewan Spence) at all about whether a combined phone/mp3 device is, actually, a good idea.

The undoubted truth - that many iPod users have said it "would be nice" to have phone functions built in - and the equally indisputable fact that many phone companies have thought that the iPod business would be good to be in, can't substitute for a solution to the real problem: the user interface.

Not to put too fine a point on it, what makes the iPod different from other music players isn't the cool design; it's that clever navigation "wheel" plus (maybe less crucial) the big storage capacity.

Neither is possible in a phone.

The lessons of phone games are that they are a good market - but not a fraction of the market for genuine portable game players. Similarly, it's a serious risk that a phone pod will sell, but in tiny numbers compared to a proper phone, or a proper pod.

If you doubt this, get any of the new generation of MP3-playing phones, and see how "easy" it is to find a particular music track. Hint: don't try this while driving. You will hit a tree.

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