Opinion: Why music geeks won't replace their iPod with a mobile phone just yet

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stu-col.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

We’re all set for Apple’s latest product launch tomorrow, with rumours about new iPods at fever pitch. There’ll be fat Nanos, touchscreen iPods with DAB tuners inside, and a Winehouse-branded model with a plug-in beehive speaker and trackmarks on the side. Well, some of those.

The point is that people are genuinely excited about the prospect of all-new iPods. Wasn’t the iPhone supposed to kill this sort of thing off? MP3 players, I mean. What with the iPhone, Nokia’s new Music Store, and Sony Ericsson’s success with its Walkman phones, you’d think standalone MP3 players were old news.

So why are people getting in a froth over new iPods? Because many music fans still don’t want to replace their MP3 player with a mobile phone, that’s why.

The one key advantage mobile phones have is convenience: not having to carry around two gadgets all the time. There’s no doubt that the mobile manufacturers increasingly know their onions when it comes to music phones, too – having played with the latest handsets from Sony Ericsson and Nokia, I can vouch for that.

And yet… I have an 80GB iPod that’s not going anywhere, for two main reasons. Firstly, there’s battery life. I run my mobile down quickly enough with all the gaming and mobile internet use, without having to worry about running out of juice due to music too. I’d rather have separate gadgets with separate power supplies, thanks.

The second reason? As a music geek, I want my whole collection with me whenever possible, either because I’m shuffling the whole lot, or because I want the freedom to listen to specific artists, albums or tracks whenever they come into my head – either through whim (‘I really fancy listening to the Menswear album this morning’) or chance (‘that Mojo feature about Jeff Buckley has made me want to go back and listen to Live At Sin-E’).

That’s not a joke about the Menswear album, by the way. It’s a classic. Really.

Anyway, phones can’t do that yet, and won’t be able to for a while. The Nokia N81 and iPhone come with 8GB of memory, which is around a third of my music collection. That, plus the battery concerns, is what’s stopped me from putting my iPod out to pasture.

Note, this isn’t an argument against mobile music itself. There are hundreds of millions of people out there for whom an 8GB music phone would be just fine. And, indeed, I have music on my phone, for the occasions when I’m out and about without my iPod (usually because I’ve forgotten to charge it).

If anything, the hype around ‘mobiles killing MP3 players’ is a distraction for people like me: I’d rather hear about how mobiles are complementing MP3 players.

But the fact is, for music geeks like me, mobile phones aren’t going to replace MP3 players entirely until they have proven longer battery life (fuel cells?) and most crucially, much bigger storage capacity. Which is why I’ll be as keen as anyone to see what Apple comes up with tomorrow, while also keeping an eye on its rivals in the standalone music-player market.

Stuart Dredge is editor-in-chief of Tech Digest, and is wondering whether he can get a filter to block the Apple Store website for 48 hours to avoid any over-excited purchases tomorrow night.

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Stuart Dredge

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