Are you a gadget geek? Did you spent hours in line just to preorder the new iPhone? When you misplace your Droid Incredible, does it feel like you’ve lost an appendage? Do you stare at your iPad screen more than you gaze into your significant others’ eyes?
Don’t worry, this isn’t an intervention.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re also way into music. And if you own one of the aforementioned devices, you probably also have few music apps. Pandora — a web-based broadcasting platform that lets you customize “stations” according to taste — is incredibly popular on mobile devices. Then there’s Slacker, which has a similar functionality. If you wanna choose your own tunes, there’s the subscription service Rhapsody, which give users access to a mind-boggling array of music that you can now listen to offline, thanks to a clever caching system that stores tunes on your device. (As long as you keep paying your monthly subscription, they’ll stay there.)
Musicians are benefitting from these new platforms, too. Independent and unafilliated artists can make their music available on many of these apps by signing up with an “aggregator” like TuneCore or Reverbnation, who will, for a relatively modest fee, populate these sites and services. (Pandora also accepts submissions from independent artists, but their process is a bit different.)
Could we be on the verge of a mobile music Renaissance? Might we even see more people accessing licensed content on platforms that pay creators? We’re always into that.
But let’s not get too excited just yet. Although the Pandora app is popular, mobile subscription apps have yet to take off. Of course, there aren’t that many of them, at least in the US. Actually, Rhapsody is the only one. MOG has reportedly submitted their mobile app to Apple, but there’s no word on whether its been approved. Ditto the recently-launched Rdio. And buzzed-about Spotify is still an overseas phenomenon.
But there’s another reason mobile music apps might not win the day: data networks.
If you’re an iPhone user, you’ve no doubt heard that AT&T — the exclusive carrier for the device — has put caps on user data consumption. This means no more “unlimited” offerings, unless you’re grandfathered in from an existing plan. Ditto for the iPad, which boasts the slickest media display since cave paintings. Kinda seems cruel to say you can only consume “this much” awesomeness on your drool-worthy device.
WIRED’s Eliot Van Buskirk talks about how data caps could affect the world of mobile music:
Paying $15 per month for wireless data provides just over seven hours of cloud-based music, even considering the highly compressed audio codecs used by mobile streaming services. It’s probably not enough for a single week of commuting — and that’s assuming that you do nothing else with your wireless data plan. Add video, magazines, web surfing, apps and e-mail to the mix, and the dream of accessing any song from anywhere remains exactly that, even with the more generous $30 per month plan…
…These data limits will have real effects on how we access music, video and other large data files from mobile devices, but they’re also about perception. It would feel irresponsible to fritter away one-seventh of your monthly data plan on a single hour of music, when it means you might not be able to check your e-mail in a couple of weeks. Even if you never actually run up against that limit, the very idea that it exists will prevent people from engaging in data-intensive, entertainment-oriented activities in the cloud.