AT&T Goes Indie With eMusic Mobile Tunes

AT&T wireless customers gained a new way to get music Tuesday, when the company announced a new, over-the-air download service with eMusic.

Currently available only on the Samsung a717 and a727 as well as new versions of the Samsung Sync and the Nokia N75 handsets, the AT&T Mobile Music service lets customer preview and purchase music via their wireless devices from eMusic’s catalog of 2.7 million songs from independent artists.

The price is five tracks a month for US$7.49, with additional bundles of five tracks available any time at the same rate. Songs are immediately sent to the user’s handset, and a duplicate copy is available for download to the user’s PC at no charge.

Music is not encoded with digital rights management (DRM) technology, and customers do not have to subscribe to the service in order to preview songs. However, AT&T “strongly recommends an unlimited data plan” for those who want to do so.

Indie Focus

“eMusic Mobile is not your typical over-the-air service,” said Mark Collins, vice president of consumer data services for AT&T’s wireless unit. “This service, which is as unique as the independent artists found in the eMusic catalog, differentiates itself from the competition through its ease of use, subscription pricing model and the ability to play these tracks in any MP3 player.”

Whereas other wireless providers such as Sprint and Verizon also offer over-the-air music services, their music selection has tended to be largely mainstream.

“eMusic Mobile will expand the audience for mobile music beyond the youth market by offering an alternative to the mainstream pop hits that have so far dominated over-the-air music,” said David Pakman, eMusic president and CEO. “AT&T is a terrific partner for this service, and we look forward to offering AT&T’s more than 63.7 million subscribers access to a rich catalog that ranges from legends like Paul McCartney and Miles Davis to new independent stars such as Spoon and Arcade Fire.”

A Simpler Solution

By choosing eMusic and its library of independent music, AT&T may have sidestepped many potential problems, David Chamberlain, principal analyst with In-Stat, told the E-Commerce Times.

“I’ve looked at the music industry for mobile phones, and it’s not necessarily one I would encourage the carriers to get into,” Chamberlain said. “When you’re dealing with large, mainstream companies that have huge libraries of their own mainstream hit music, it can be expensive, there are lawyers everywhere, and it’s a maze of terrible rights-management issues,” he said.

“What’s intriguing is that when you get into something that’s focused on independent labels, my guess is that a lot of the real hassles and costs will be much lower,” he explained. “The indies are not bringing in the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).”

Pricing Concerns

While AT&T says “many” more handsets will be added to the list of those that can subscribe to the service in the future, it came as a surprise to some that Apple’s iPhone was not included.

“I applaud AT&T for using the best of breed available to deliver music, but I think some people are going to be confused as to what’s available with what phone,” Phil Leigh, senior analyst with Inside Digital Media, told the E-Commerce Times. “If I were an iPhone user, I would definitely want this.”

Perhaps even more critical, though, is the pricing issue, Leigh said. “The price is just too high — they’ve priced it out of the market,” he said. “After 15 years we’re all excited by the information highway, but we don’t want to have to pay a toll every five miles. It’s just not going to happen,” Leigh added.

Pricing aside, the move could be a wise one for AT&T.

A Profitable Proposition

“I think it’s great,” Chris Hazelton, senior analyst for mobile device technology and trends with IDC Research, told the E-Commerce Times. “Over-the-air usually is more expensive, but prices are coming down.”

Over-the-air service is also very good for the carrier, Hazelton added, because the company not only earns revenue for the content, but it also increases mobile data usage, which in turn raises the company’s average revenue per user. In addition, such services allow the company to appeal to a wider audience, he said.

People are increasingly aware of mobile music possibilities, Hazelton explained, and “the U.S. market has become very comfortable with sideloading,” or the practice of loading music onto a handset manually by connecting it via cable to a PC.

Of course, that approach “goes around the carrier, so the carrier doesn’t make any money, especially if they are subsidizing the handset,” Hazelton said. Carriers are interested in offering phones that download over-the-air services because those services tend to require data plans, which are more expensive than voice plans.

Instant Gratification

Will the price put off too many users?

“There are always going to be complaints about pricing,” Chamberlain said. “Anything greater than zero will always find pricing resistance — it’s just human nature. What makes the difference in pricing is if the customer finds enough value in it.”

In the end, Hazelton concluded, it will be a matter of consumers asking themselves, “Are you willing to pay for instant gratification?”

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Play-To-Earn Gaming Faces Hurdles To Rapid Growth

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian raised some eyebrows in the gaming world recently when he predicted on the “Where It Happens” podcast that play-to-earn gaming would take over 90 percent of the gaming market in five years.

“Ninety percent of people will not play a game unless they are being properly valued for that time,” Ohanian declared in the podcast.

“In five years,” he continued, “you will actually value your time properly, and instead of being harvested for advertisements, or being fleeced for dollars to buy stupid hammers you don’t actually own, you will be playing some on-chain equivalent game that will be just as fun, but you’ll actually earn value, and you will be the harvester.”

Play-to-earn games typically use cryptocurrency instead of proprietary tokens for in-game rewards and earnings. The most popular play-to-earn title is “Axie Infinity,” a Pokemon-style game where Axies can be bought and sold for Ronin cryptocurrency.

While play-to-earn gaming is gaining in popularity, most of the excitement and interest is tied to future opportunity, rather than changes to current gaming business models, explained Michael Inouye, a principal analyst with ABI Research.

“The larger opportunity comes from the hype surrounding the metaverse, where digital goods will be earned, bought and sold like real-world, physical goods,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Gaming is a natural entry point because it’s already virtual and 3D and gamers are accustomed to dealing with virtual assets and items, so there is certainly strong growth potential,” he said.

Optimistic Forecast

Ross Rubin, the principal analyst with Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City, explained that over the years, there have been a number of experiments with paying people to do all kinds of things, such as watching ads or playing games.

“Usually, payment is in a proprietary currency, which could be redeemed for prizes,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Play-to-earn gaming is an extension of that.”

“Cryptocurrency, though, is more widely accepted than proprietary currencies,” he continued. “It also allows something to be done that was very difficult to do in the past. It enables micro transactions. That may make play-to-earn gaming more practical than it might have been in the past, but there’s still a lot of challenging dynamics.”

He asserted that Ohanian’s prediction was “extremely high.”

“So much of the market is made up of casual gamers — people playing a game on their mobile phone waiting for a train or in an elevator or waiting room,” he said.

“It would represent a fundamental reversal of what has been a very profitable model — in-app purchases — where the money has been flowing the other way, to developers and game companies,” he observed.

“It’s too optimistic,” added Chirag Upadhyay, an industry analyst with Strategy Analytics, a global research, advisory and analytics firm.

“Developers and gaming companies are trying to make money from software,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This will take away from that.”

“There won’t be a large interest in the model from developers and gaming companies unless it presents them with a large opportunity to make money,” he said.

Developer Resistance

Mark N. Vena, president and principal analyst at SmartTechResearch in San Jose, Calif., called Ohanian’s forecast “wildly optimistic.”

“I’m highly skeptical of the 90 percent figure,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Most of the gaming community is on consoles and mobile devices,” he explained. “The guys who write the titles for those platforms are very reluctant to change their business model.”

“Play-to-earn gaming requires those developers to get on board with it,” he continued. “To do that in five years would take a really heavy push.”

The use of cryptocurrency could also be a problem. “Its instability could be a headwind to game developers getting on board with play-to-earn gaming,” he noted.

What’s more, he pointed out that five years is still within the lifecycle of the new Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles, which are not built for NFT and cryptocurrency implementation.

“Microsoft and Sony would have to have to do things at the platform level to make that work,” he observed. “I don’t see them doing that.”

“Future platforms may support the trend,” he added, “but I don’t see that happening in the short term.”

Paid To Play

Lewis Ward, research director for gaming at IDC, voiced concern over what may be the underlying driver of play-to-earn’s popularity.

“I don’t think these play-to-earn games are great games, driving gamers to play them because they’re great games,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“My understanding is that a large chunk of the Axie Infinity user base is being paid to play the game,” he said.

“People in the cryptocurrency world are paying people to play games in order to drive up the valuation of the cryptocurrencies and their relationship to NFTs,” he asserted. “In that world — if you have a lot of liquidity, a lot of people buying and selling what you have to offer — it makes other people confident it’s going to rise in value over time. So the companies behind the cryptocurrency have a vested interest in driving up the transaction volume.”

“My concern is that what’s been driving interest in play-to-earn games is a form of self-dealing,” he continued. “Companies in and around this space are effectively paying people to play these games to drive up the value of cryptocurrencies that they can monetize. It becomes a money-making operation.”

“This can create a raft of legal issues, once you get into children and the extraction of cryptocurrencies into fiat currencies,” he added.

“That’s why play-to-earn games are not in the Apple App Store or in Google Play Store,” he said. “The platform owners don’t want to get in the middle of something so unsettled from a legal perspective and potentially open themselves up to lawsuits down the line.”

Inouye noted that there will certainly be value in digital goods and NFTs in the future, but there is a great deal of work and experimentation that needs to happen before it becomes the dominant revenue generator for the gaming market.

“In this context, pay-to-earn should be viewed more as a way to reward gamers for their efforts and virtual collections, but it’s going to take a significant lift to shift the revenue streams away from premium and advertising,” he said.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible within five years — we’ve seen some unexpected changes happen in short time periods — but the probabilities I would say, are really low,” he added.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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Apple Unveils New Muscular MacBooks, Refreshes AirPods, Adds $5 Music Service

Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro line of laptop computers and introduced two new processors Monday at an online event.

The company also introduced a new version of its AirPods wireless earbuds, added a low cost tier to its music service, and brightened up its HomePod smart speaker line with some new colors.

The new MacBook Pros are offered in 14-inch (US$1,999) and 16-inch ($2,499) models. Both have Liquid Retina XDR displays.

MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch

Two new processors were also unveiled by Apple. The M1 Pro supports up to a 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU, as well as up to 32 GB of unified memory. The M1 Max supports a 10-core CPU, up to 32-core GPU, and 64GB of unified memory.

Apple claims that the new Macs can get up 21 hours of battery life.

On the connectivity front, the units have an HDMI port, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an SD card reader and a headphone jack.

The much maligned Touchbar has been replaced by function keys on the laptops.

“In some ways, Apple has gone retro with the new Macs,” observed Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst with Tirias Research, a national high-tech research and advisory firm.

“They brought back Magsafe. They brought back ports — an HDMI port and SD card port — and the Touchbar is gone,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Stunning Performance

The retro changes may mark a change in attitude by Apple, Krewell continued. “They seem to be more sensitive to feedback from their customers that some of their innovations were actually not that innovative,” he said.

Krewell added that Apple’s obsession with ultra-thinness also seems to be gone. “There must be some changes in the Apple design group because they’re not obsessed with making things as thin as possible. They’re actually focused on functionality over form,” he maintained.

Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology advisory firm in Campbell, Calif. noted the new M1 processors give Apple’s laptops a leg up on Windows-based laptops.

“What they’ve done with the M1 chip is significant,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They have put themselves so ahead of the PC processor guys because of what they’ve done with advancing performance while lowering the energy draw.”

“They’re creating the highest level of performance, with 70 percent less power draw,” he said. “That is stunning.”

Apple M1 Pro, M1 Max CPU Performance Chart

“With these MacBooks, Apple is getting more ambitious with their silicon,” added Mark N. Vena, president and principal analyst at SmartTechResearch, a technology advisory firm in San Jose, Calif.

“They’re competing very strongly against x86 processors,” he told TechNewsWorld. “In many cases they will exceed the performance of those processors because macOS is optimized for Apple’s processors. That’s hard for Intel to do because OEMs create so many flavors of Windows.”

Catering to Creators

Ross Rubin, the principal analyst at Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City, explained that the new MacBooks are promising the performance of a leading PC laptop with discrete graphics, but with a fraction of the power consumption.

“Applications that take advantage of rendering and intensive computational tasks can be done on battery power much longer than on a PC, because PCs have to cut back on performance when using battery power,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis Research, a technology market research and consulting firm in Foster City, Calif. noted that the new MacBooks look impressive.

“The benchmark numbers Apple threw out there looked great,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’ll be interesting to see how other people benchmark it.”

MacBook Pro 14-inch performance gains

The new MacBook Pro delivers huge performance gains for even the most demanding of workflows.

Bajarin acknowledged that the new MacBooks are not a mass market item. “These are for creatives — people making movies, games and audio recordings,” he explained.

He estimated that Apple sells about seven million laptops per quarter. Only about a million of them are sold to creatives.

Not for Gamers

“With the iPhone and iPad, the pro versions of those products offer features that non-creatives can find value in,” observed Rubin. “That is less the case with the MacBook Pros. The processing power is so beyond what the average user would need.”

Laptops with the processing power and graphics capabilities of the new MacBooks would attract a gaming following in the Windows world, but that’s unlikely with the new Apple laptops, Rubin maintained.

“We didn’t hear a word about games for the Mac because even machines as powerful as these aren’t going to attract a lot of high-end games,” he said. “The volume of Macs is too low to be a target for those developers.”

The new MacBooks can support a lot of memory, but Krewell cautioned buyers to be careful when considering how much memory they want with their new laptop.

“The downside to unified memory is it isn’t upgradable,” he explained. “When you buy a MacBook Pro with 32 gigabytes of memory, that’s all you’re going to ever have. You can’t upgrade.”

With the new chips, Apple seems to be avoiding a big mistake made by PC makers, Vena noted.

“Over the last 25 years, Intel, and to a lesser extent AMD, have come out with too many clock speeds,” he said.

“Clock speeds confuse consumers, especially if there’s only minor differences in the chips,” he continued. “Apple is keeping things nice and clean. They have the M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max. Good, better, best. That model has been around forever. People understand it.”

Disruptive Music Offering

Apple introduced a new version of its AirPods, which will sell for $179.

The new AirPods look similar to the pricier AirPods Pro and support spatial audio, Adaptive EQ, longer battery life and are sweat and water resistant.

“If you like the AirPods Pro look and feel but don’t care about noise cancellation, it could be a good fit for you,” Rubin said.

“They’re a significant step above the entry-level model, even without noise cancellation, because of the support for spatial audio and new sensors,” Bajarin added.

Apple AirPods

Apple says its new AirPods are resistant to both sweat and water, with an IPX4 rating for both the earbuds and the case.

O’Donnell noted that Adaptive EQ can make a difference in the quality of the audio you experience, although it’s one of those things that sounds great in theory but in the real world may not be that noticeable to some people.

“Spatial audio is very cool,” he added. “The problem is that for spatial audio to have a real impact, music has to be remixed. That’s a big effort, and there’s very little audio that’s been premixed for spatial audio.”

Apple also introduced Voice Plan ($4.99 a month), which allows subscribers to access Apple Music’s catalogue via the company’s digital assistant Siri.

“It could be disruptive because they’re offering really good value for a robust music service,” Rubin maintained. “It’s the biggest news in Apple Music since its launch.”

In addition, Apple has added three new colors — yellow, orange and blue — to its HomePod mini line.

Apple HomePod mini 5 colors

“Offering more colors is just meeting demand,” Bajarin said. “They have a lot of demand for colors. If you want to put one in a kid’s bedroom, for example, they don’t want white or gray. Kids want color.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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