Monday, May 29, 2006

Cell Phones Will Not Displace iPods

Okay, I've had all I can take. I think reading one more sentence of illogical tripe supporting the notion that cell phones will soon begin eroding the iPod's death grip on the portable music player market, and my brain will explode. Now hear this: It ain't happenin'.

The Experience Sucks

I happily own one of the super-thin little SLVR candybar phones, and even have 90 or so tunes loaded on the device from my iTunes library. I have wanted this device to work as my primary music player. It does not. It can't. It is a royal pain in the butt to use that way, compared to simply tossing a "real" iPod in my pocket. So, after months of determined effort to adopt the SLVR, I now am back to carrying both devices.

The reason for my rejection of the SLVR's music player abilities is simple: I actually use my phone... a LOT. If I never needed to actually conduct a telephone conversation using the product, it would be a capable, albeit exquisitely pricey, music player. No problem. But, that is not the case. I need to easily answer and place calls on the SLVR throughout the course of my days and evenings. That's where the whole cellphone music thing breaks completely apart.

While listening to music with the SLVR, first, I am forced to either (A) use the bargain basement earbuds shipped with the product that are terminated in a mini-USB plug, or (B) use the mini-USB plug adapter that is provided, and use my own higher quality earbuds. Believe it or not, I actually have a hard time making certain that I always happen to have that little adapter in my pocket at all times. I also hate the ugly thing hanging off the side of my phone. And, using the adapter with regular earbuds makes the easy call-answer ability that can be had with the OEM buds unavailable... no microphone on the adapter. So, given a choice between using the horrifically bad OEM earbuds, with a microphone in the cord, or, using a no-mike set of better sounding earbuds, but not being able to answer calls without removing them, I choose a third option: carry my iPod.

An Unfixable Flaw

Sadly for the hugely fantasy-driven predictors of the cell phone's ascendency to music player leadership, the problem of "how to answer calls" cannot be fixed suitably. Ever. Listening to music and talking on a telephone are mutually exclusive activities, insofar as using earbuds. So, the issue will always be there of having to deal with switching back and forth between talking or listening.

For a small group of user who spent much time listening to mobile music and texting, but little time actually talking on a phone, a feature to switch the earbuds from one use to the other would work. Should Apple ever build a phone I expect this functionality to be included -- along with a whole slate of functions for everybody else.

There are other interface and file management issues that I have with my few month experiment with my SLVR. But, why complain? It is the basic flaw I discuss here that is the impassable hurdle that will keep cellphones from ever toppling standalone music players from their sales perch. For the foreseeable future, the iPod product line is in no danger of being slapped into irrelevance by music phones.


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