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Industry Perspectives: Mobile Music Streaming—An Alternative to Downloading

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Consider this scenario: You’re in the mood for some mobile tunes and must choose between paying per song to download a handful of tracks to your mobile, or simply paying a modest subscription to listen to as much streamed digital music as you want, in some cases choosing from a library of more than 250,000 songs to browse at your leisure. Which would you prefer – downloading or streaming?

Mobile music streaming services are a breakthrough alternative to more established MP3 music download services.

With music streaming, subscribers can access hundreds of thousands or millions of tracks, create their own playlists and even bookmarking the songs they want to listen to for a monthly subscription fee, in contrast to downloading, which involves storing all the tracks locally on the device, and (usually) paying separately for each track downloaded.

Consumers expect music streaming to be a very enjoyable and user-friendly experience. They want problem-free playback, and when a song is interrupted by a phone call or other such event they should be able to seamlessly return playing the song at the previous point as soon as the interruption finishes.

Users should also be able to access published playlists and create and share their own playlists within the operator’s music community. A music service should fulfil the basic requirements (i.e. allow access to listen to music), but increasingly advanced features are now regarded as standard.

Download Dominates
Both mobile and Internet music services available today still rely on download as the dominant delivery method. The reason is partly historic and may also be due to customer familiarity; the file transfer paradigm so popular in the internet domain was easily applied to mobile.

File transfer is simple to develop and to use, and so gained popularity before the first streaming services appeared. Consumers are also very familiar with downloading files to their personal computers and having a physical copy to keep on their machines.

Streaming was considered a great new way to deliver content (such as music and broadcast TV) over the internet, while allowing the broadcaster to retain access and payment control.

In the personal computer realm, it was not so critical that streaming reduced the file storage requirements, because disk space has increased significantly in recent years. Considered more important was that streaming provided near-instant access to content and eliminated the wait to download the files themselves. Streaming also enabled live broadcasts to be delivered over the Internet to thousands of people worldwide.

Considering the mobile devices themselves, the much-hyped iPhone is a great MP3 player and user-friendly gadget, but a considerable drawback is that until recently it was incompatible with the current high-speed (3G) networks. The iPhone and iTunes also force the user into a proprietary music format and thus remain dependent on one provider, and one device, for all their music.

While some may not see this as a major limitation, it does restrict flexibility and makes it a challenge to have your music in several places at once (mobile phone, MP3 player, and personal computer). Therefore, streaming is a realistic alternative that can overcome some of the limitations of downloading the restricted music formats.

Download Limitations
Mobile music (and video) services do not always provide a great user experience when the content is downloaded. An important reason relates to storage space on the mobile and time. Popular mobiles still have quite limited storage and slow network speeds, and customers commonly have to pay for airtime or every packet of data sent across the wireless network (at least in North America).

Furthermore, additional software can be needed to help the user manage the files on the mobile, and basic file administration (such as moving, copying and sorting) is usually very hard to do on such a device, often forcing the user to delete songs already purchased to free up space for new ones.

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