iPhone UK launch: O2's iPhone (and iTunes) versus Vodafone's MusicStation

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omnifone-musicstation-vodafone.jpgO2 may have bagged the iPhone, but keen readers will know that Vodafone got its retaliation in super-early, with the announcement a couple of weeks ago that it would be launching Omnifone’s subscription-based MusicStation service in November. So how do they compare?

Well, Omnifone already has a document providing a direct comparison between the two services, which it supplied when we asked for its views. Unsurprisingly, MusicStation comes out on top for questions like ‘Available on prepay?’, ‘Cheapest device’ and features like social networking, playlist-sharing and personalised news.

‘Company’s own analysis proves it’s better than rival’ isn’t a super-strong story, of course, not least because for many people the decision to buy an iPhone ISN’T about sober analysis of how it compares to other music handsets / services. But the comparison between iPhone/iTunes and MusicStation is relevant in other ways.

See, it shows two clearly different approaches to mobile music. Apple’s approach with the iPhone is all about mobile music working in the same way as online music, in terms of paying for each download from a pure storefront service. Meanwhile, Omnifone’s approach is about paying a flat monthly subscription for unlimited downloads, while bundling community and sharing aspects around it.

There’s no doubt that MusicStation is more innovative as a mobile music service, but that’s also a challenge for Vodafone and Omnifone, since they’ll have to convince people of its merits before signing them up. Meanwhile, the iPhone is a relatively easy sell to anyone who’s owned an iPod.

Apple has sold over four billion songs through iTunes on PCs and Macs, which makes it top dog in the online music market, but pales in comparison to the number of tunes being traded on P2P networks (in other words, Apple has yet to convince the majority of file-sharers that it’s better to pay for music legally).

Interestingly, Omnifone’s comparison document doesn’t mention DRM – digital rights management. Both iTunes and MusicStation have it, meaning there are limits on what you can do with your purchased music, although iPhone users will be able to buy DRM-free iTunes Plus files from the iTunes Store.

Nokia’s upcoming Music Store also has DRM, indicating that while there’s a big trend towards selling DRM-free music in the online world, mobile music continues to opt for the DRM route. For all the appeal of MusicStation’s £1.99 a week subscription, it seems likely that whether you’re on O2 or Vodafone, if there’s an album that you want to keep and play however you want, you’ll need to buy the CD.

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Stuart Dredge