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Thursday, January 18, 2007

iPods and musicphones

The prolific Tomi Ahonen has a couple of viciously-detailed posts about the iPod's fall from prominence in comparison with music-capable mobile phones. It's pretty difficult to argue with the main thrust of his argument.

My one over-riding question though.... exactly where ARE these 400m active musicphone users, outside of Japan or Korea?

I'm struggling to think of a country I've visited in the last 12 months (out of I guess 20 or so) where "identifiable" MP3 listeners in cafes/public transport were predominantly phone-based. Forget the surveys for a moment, and think about what you actually see in real life. I don't mean white earbuds, lots of non-Apple devices have them, but actually people you can see selecting tracks, changing the volume and so on. Sure, there's a fair few SonyEricssons being used, and a susprising number of standalone non-Apple players, but I honestly don't see that many RAZRs, Chocolates or Nokias being used with headphones.

I know the UK is an Apple stronghold, so I realise that real-world empirical observations of music listeners on London's Tube (I'd guess 4:1 in iPod's favour) aren't globally representative. so I'd be interested if any of other readers around the world could do a "straw poll" of MP3 listeners they see on their daily commute or around college.

I also disagree with Tomi's stance on using the mobile as the centre of your "music life" rather than a PC. Apart from the easier user interface, faster/cheaper broadband and greater storage, I have to believe that most active music-lovers will treat unfettered access to iTunes, Amazon, bands on Myspace and assorted streaming services as much more usable on a PC, irrespective of their preference for iPod or musicphone.

One other thing.... what happens when today's downloaded music purchasers switch operators or upgrade handsets & lose some of their content because it's DRM-locked to that phone? Will we see a sudden clamour for "Content Portability" laws to go along with number portability?


OK, I don't want to start a statistical flame war, but I see that Tomi has updated his blog to give some ests of geographic split of where the supposed 400m musicphone users are. Now, I actually think his underlying message that the iPod's domination is over is sort-of right, especially in countries which Apple's pricing or language limitations put it out of contention. But I do reckon he's still exaggerating the importance of musicphones quite substantially.

Now I delve into it, I think this 400m number is way out. Its based on an assumption that 15% of worldwide handset users listen to MP3s. But the Continental Research report he cites is UK-only, not worldwide, based on around 2400 responses. Further, based on the write-up in this article only 15% of these 2400 people had listened to an MP3 file on their phone in the last 12 months, of whom only 70% used it at least weekly (ie 10% overall), but only 13% on a daily basis.

Let's go with the weekly figure as a reasonable indicator of "active usage", and assume that Continental's sampling methodology is rigorously representative of the market as a whole, despite the rather cheap price of its report. That gives 10% of UK mobile users listening to music on phones regularly - ie about 5m people (or 1m using them daily using the other figure). Personally, I still don't think this reconciles well with my own empirical observations of peoples' behaviour in the UK, where I reckon I see around 4x iPod users vs. musicphone+other MP3 users - and no way are there 20m iPod users in the UK!

I don't have enough knowledge about the Chinese market to say whether 90m is reasonable, but I'd guess that the German & especially Spanish figures (14m out of 40m total population) look a too high as well (I have an "on the ground" anecdotal comment on my own blog from Madrid saying that musicphone usage is pretty rare, so I can't believe that 1 in 3 people of all ages is a regular user).

If I had to make a punt, and given that the UK (outside of Korea & Japan) is probably comparatively high-usage than most places, I'd estimate that a more realistic worldwide number is 4-6% of mobile users are regular musicphone listeners, ie around 130m, rather than 400m, with probably only 3-4% for non-Korea/Japan markets. Observationally, I'd say this seems to feel "about right" as well.

Still a good number cf. iPods but certainly it's not as clear-cut a ratio as he suggest.s


Miguel said...

I'll contribute to the world survey:
Madrid, Spain:
I commute everyday by tube and train.
Most seen mp3 player: cheap no-brand flash players.
iPods are also quite frequent, which is remarkable when comparing their price to the average salary.
Mobile phones: rarely seen as music players, mostly Nokias (recognizable by the microphone thingy). I still see more portable cd-players than mobiles used that way...

Anonymous said...

The iPod rules the US music market. I haven’t seen one person here use their phone as a music device; and I commute.

alex said...

My personal observations:
- UK: yes, lots of iPod on the London tube, but quite interesting that a friend up from the country-side states that his two teenager children have SE music phones "as their iPod", i.e. clearly viewed as replacement.
- China: the electronics shops were full of MP3 players, ahead of mobile phones. I saw more people using phones for taking photos & video than "real" cameras, but far more cheap MP3 players than phones used for music. No iPods though.

I also don't see that the replacement of iPod with phones has happened already, but the trend is undisputable.
Also the sharp decline in the growth rate of iPod sales (2006 vs. 2005) indicates that iPod is becoming a niche in the overall music player market.
This seems to be characteristic of Apple - rf. their computers and the apparent target market for the iPhone.