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Yawning public puts convergence on skids - survey

iPod? iPhone? Who cares?

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A survey of 3,000 British music buyers should make sobering reading for telecomms executives and label bosses this morning. It shows customers are far more savvy and discerning about the enchantments of the er, 'digital revolution' than vendors and Guardian newspaper interns might hope.

The survey shows consumers express a slight, but firm preference for having one device that does music on the go, with the preference being that it should be a phone. Farewell, then iPod - we'll see you in the section today reserved for PDAs at Circuit City (ie, locked away, under the counter) fairly soon. But phone manufacturers and cellular networks shouldn't rejoice just yet.

Consumers also expressed a desire to 'impulse buy' a song they'd just heard over the air - but these people were in the minority and many had reservations: over two thirds - 69 per cent of respondents - said they'd either rather wait for the CD, shop around for a better digital deal, or simply download the song to their computer when they got home (a codeword for P2P, we suspect), rather than buy it on the spot, over the air, from the network provider.

Cellular carriers have justified premium pricing for over the air purchases (Sprint's $2.50 per song is far higher than Apple's 99 cents per song) because they're providing an 'impulse buy'. That's only got a limited appeal, the survey finds, while that tantalizing 30 per cent of potential impulse buyers is going to get some record executives excited.

There's also an intriguing gender difference in who would do what. Women are more inclined to impulse buy than men. Presumably chaps feel they must confer with their capo, style guru, or the NME before making such a momentous decision.

Men would also rather, weirdly, prefer to turn their iPod into a phone, than vice versa by a small margin. Women think their phones are their most important gadgets, and would rather see 'iPod' turn into just another feature one their phones. Which is a relief - at least somone's got things in proportion.

Refreshingly, a whacking 80 per cent of respondents said they didn't need any new kind of converged gizmo at all right now, thank you. 44 per cent said they weren't interested at all, and 36 per cent said they were fine with what they had, all the same.

All of which suggests that today's digital downloads - as a value proposition offered by the likes of Vodapplephone - look like a lot of froth.

The survey was conducted by Entertainment Media Research on behalf of law firm Olswang. The size of the survey sample is significant - it's about three times the sample size of a a political opinion poll and about five times the size of a Nielsen TV rating. Even more significant is the uncomfortable fact, for would-be digital moguls, that the public isn't terribly impressed by this froth.

And no wonder. With the paltry inventory of music that's on on offer, the DRM retrictions, the lousy sound quality, and those expensive gadgets whose batteries last shorter than a sneeze (immediate replacements are considered compulsory) you can't blame the public for giving this month's version of what seems to be a perpertual 'digital revolution', a great big raspberry. There'll be another one along in a minute. ®

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