How the music biz can live forever, get even richer, and be loved

A modest proposal


The lonely iPod user

Why do you think those people in the iPod posters are dancing away on their own?

Don't they have any friends?

Let's help them find some friends!

An iPod is simply a hard disk, and socially, it's a very limited gadget without wireless. It's as stupid as having hot running water, but not plumbing it up to a bath or a shower.

The social, self-filling iPod: more music, and more friends

We're at a very brief moment in human history. After thousands of years, recording and transmission technologies have been introduced: there's now a music business. The technology allowed a great audience for music and this could be monetized. In the first, recording and transmission technologies - wax and radio - were the revolution; Peer to Peer networks, the iPod, and what we'll see next, are incremental. The music business has successfully monetized all of these.

Eventually we'll think that we were incredibly stupid that we once had music players that couldn't talk to each other, and radios that couldn't record.

So there's two technologies that are being integrated together: storage and wireless.

With today's iPods, you can hijack a party, or share an earphone with a friend, and look a dork - that's about it. With wireless it starts to be useful.

On the bus, your iPod will be a personal, short range radio station. Click the "What am I listening to?" menu. Tune in to everyone else's iPod. Like what you hear? Then record it!

Today's biggest iPod, with 802.11 WLAN, could fill itself up in half an hour. These speeds and these disks are increasing every year, as you know.

What happens when you approach this from the other direction, and add disk storage to a wireless device? It's already happened: the Bug records CD-quality digital radio and has a record and rewind button. The Bug doesn't have a hard disk, so it's still a bit fiddly. But via an SD card you can take that recorded MP3 file and add it to your PC collection.

What happens when people want to share music? They find a way of doing it. Since it costs next to nothing to leave an iPod broadcasting, each clothes stall or launderette will leave one running. Down the street you go, collecting music. Now, iPods are pretty expensive. What if people had these capabilities for free? They will.

In a few years phones will have much more processing power and the storage of today's iPods. Today WLAN drains the batteries, but there will be lower-power short range wireless technology that does the job, Ultra Wide Band. That's a T1 pipe over a few feet. There are still technical issues: its effectiveness diminishes as more devices are in use, range is quite short, but it's potentially hundreds of times faster than Bluetooth.

The carriers subsidize phones by hundreds of pounds. They're more interested in driving up the ARPU (average revenue per user) once they've got you as a customer. What would you rather have, a phone with a built-in iPod, or not? Or one with sharing, or not? Tough decision.

Put another way, do you think they'll even be able to shift a phone without these capabilities?

So you don't need an iPod. But you might not even need something as sophisticated as a phone. Here's something else to think about. In 1997 IBM demonstrated two men shaking hands, and exchanging an electronic business card. The body is a natural electricity conductor, and where there's electricity, you can transmit bits. It's still in the laboratory but speeds are increasing.

So hello, [Universal UK boss] John Kennedy. Nice to meet you. Thanks for the CD you've just given me!


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