The 2007 mobile music market could be summed up in one phrase: "It's the device, stupid."
And though no mobile music service or associated innovation gained even a fraction of the attention that Apple did by unveiling the iPhone, that story certainly helped shine a spotlight on other mobile music developments, if only by means of comparison. And believe it or not, there were other milestones in mobile music throughout the year.
AT&T finally joined competitors Sprint and Verizon Wireless by launching its own full-song music download services. Its strategy is one of partnership, tapping eMusic and Napster to create mobile versions of their digital music services so users can buy individual tracks or track bundles directly from their phones. The operator also became the exclusive U.S. provider of the iPhone, which sold more than 1 million units in less than three months.
Rhapsody got into the mobile game as well. After absorbing MTV's Urge, the company struck a deal with Verizon Wireless that made Rhapsody the exclusive platform to deliver tracks purchased from the VCast Music service. Through time, Rhapsody and Napster hope to apply a wireless all-you-can-eat subscription model to their plans.
Trying to ring in sales
This year also saw a resumed push on ringtones, with operators spending big bucks on exclusive deals with big-name acts in hopes of goosing a stalling market. Verizon led the way, landing such big-ticket names as AC/DC, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin. AT&T landed a few punches as well, ending the year with exclusives from Dave Matthews Band and Matchbox Twenty.
But from its initial flashy unveiling to the lines of people camping out for a device that didn't even sell out, to the inevitable backlash when Apple cut the price by $200 just 70 days after it went on sale for $600, the iPhone dominated every mobile music discussion. And it will continue to do so for months to come.
Meanwhile, other handset manufacturers are now pulling out the stops:
- NOKIA N95: The N95, Nokia's flagship smart phone, supports MP3, WMA, RealAudio and several other digital music formats, and also contains an FM radio tuner. Its Bluetooth feature enables audio to stream to other speakers, it can access the Internet through built-in Wi-Fi, and European models feature Nokia's new Ovi digital entertainment service and music store, and an 8 GB internal flash storage capacity. No U.S. carriers sell the device yet, but U.S. fans can get an unlocked version directly from Nokia.
- HTC Touch: A full-screen, touch-navigation wireless phone that runs Windows Mobile version 6, the Touch features HTC's TouchFLO interface. Sprint offers the product exclusively in the United States. The Touch features direct access to the Sprint Music Store, as well as video services, Outlook e-mail and streaming radio stations. A microSD card slot offers up to 4 GB of removable memory.
- LG Voyager: Known in Europe as the Prada phone because of a branding relationship there, the new Voyager from LG one-ups the competition by featuring two screens — a 2.8-inch touch-screen display on the face and a smaller screen when flipped open above a Qwerty keyboard. It plays MP3, WMA, AAC and all other digital music formats. A microSD card slot supports up to 8 GB of memory. It's available exclusively via Verizon and supports all the operator's VCast multimedia services.
- Samsung F700: The Ultra Smart-branded multimedia phone features a touch-screen interface and a full Qwerty slide-out keyboard. It uses a drag-and-drop navigation feature that makes it easier to search for specific content, like music. It lacks any significant onboard memory, but has a microSD memory slot for up to 4 GB. Rumored to be coming to Verizon this Christmas under the name U940.
- Sony Ericsson W960: The W960 is the Walkman version of a touch-screen phone but with a normal dialing keypad. The 8 GB device has a 2.8-inch display, 3.2 megapixel camera and Wi-Fi for Web browsing. It supports MP3 and AAC. An optional charger desk stand includes speakers. Not yet available in the United States.