Friday, 7 September 2007

The iPod is dead, long live the iPod!

Alright, I hold my hands up. I should have waited for the press release and got one of the new iPod Classics, shouldn't I? If I'd gone for the 80GB model, I'd have saved money, or for about the same price I could have got the 160GB model. They're already on to pre-order as I write this.
I have no excuses. I heard all the rumours on Digg and Engadget, and I'd been told of them by other people as well, so I knew something was imminent.
Ah, well. Live and learn, I guess. Besides, I have a big CD collection, but not big enough that I'd need a 160GB iPod (at least, not unless I put Rockbox on it and ripped every single CD I own in FLAC format, and I'm not that bothered about sound quality when you're going to be listening on crappy little headphones).
I have to say, though, that I think the iPod probably isn't going to be around much longer.
You what! I hear you say. They've just released a new Shuffle, a new Nano, the two Classics and the Touch! No-one else can match the iPod!
Well, that is true. Apple now have the vast majority of the digital music player market. But, I think that is going to change, probably in the next five years. The reason for this is that storing your music on your player will become unnecessary, thanks to improvements in networking.
I think there have been two great advances in portable music players. The Walkman was great in that it allowed you to listen to music on the move, but you had to take the tapes with you, so it wasn't as portable as an iPod is. This didn't change appreciably with the advent of personal CD players.
The iPod also revolutionised music on the go, in that for the first time, it was practical to take your entire music collection with you everywhere you went. That was a fantastic development. I've found that having a portable music player of this type has a bigger effect than is obvious. It actually changes the way you listen to music, because rather than having to choose a few favourite CD's or tapes to take with you, you have them all with you and can listen to any when you want, encouraging you to listen to things you otherwise wouldn't listen to very often.
I foresee a third revolution in portable music players once the 4G revolution is upon us. 4G would mean that in any area with the right kind of coverage (probably via mobile phone network), you'd be able to stream music or other content at 100Mbit/s. Under these circumstances, there'd be little point in having a hard drive built in. You could probably use your mobile phone to listen to music, since this would already have to connect to the network, so you might as well integrate the two devices.
I've heard a lot of talk along these lines, and I think it's true. I think there would be several ways you could access your music. Home servers are likely to become more and more popular over the next few years, and you could store music there, or you could keep it on an online storage service. Alternatively, you could use a Napster-style subscription service. Or my perennial favourite, music site, perhaps. This way, you wouldn't just have access to your own collection, you'd have access to everything. Think about it - any song ever recorded only a few button presses away at any time! Cool, huh?
Don't believe me? Believe Rick Rubin. The man has been in the music industry for over two decades as a well-respected producer and is now a head honcho at Columbia Records. He recently gave an interview with the New York Times where he outlined a similar vision of the future of the music industry.
Of course, Apple may be able to move with the times. There is actually plenty of evidence that they may be able to do so. The new iPod Touch has built-in WiFi, and of course they have the iPhone as well. But I think there is one company that are very likely to do well out of this, and that is Sony. They have much more experience than Apple of making mobile phones that also play music, they have belatedly learned that proprietary music formats are a pain in the proverbial (making them more likely to embrace more open standards), they are one of the few companies that can match Apple in terms of product design (those Vaio laptops look amazing!) and they are also a record company. I think this puts them in a very good position to benefit from developments along these lines
Oh, and my progress on the web design course: I didn't use the link tool on Blogger to do the links on this post. I edited the HTML myself! So now I have written some lines of HTML which are on the Internet. A small step, but a satisfying one.

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