In the 1980’s music lovers where energized by the fusion of an established medium, Television, and the record business; the result had everyone demanding “I want my MTV!” It’s a fantastic example of two technologies cross-pollinating each other and forming vibrant new products and business avenues. Today a similar marriage of media and technology is taking place in the wireless mobile space – and its going to be big!

The last decade has shown us the evolving face of music, and I’m not talking about the raise or fall of any genre, style or particular artists, but rather the publics method of procuring and digesting their musical selections. Music is moving faster then ever, from car based MP3 Players, to the culture of “sharing” music via P-to-P networks, to the ubiquity iPod users jogging or commuting on the train; music is all digital and always mobile. Music on wireless devices is just the next logical extension of this move to a more on-line and mobile community.

One Gadget to Rule them All

Its simple really, users want one device to handle all their mobile needs. Convenience
is cool – who wants to carry multiple devices, but again fusion is the key here. Up till now the convergence of PDAs and Cell phones has represented only a limited segment of the total mobile market; partially due to the marketing of high-end PDA phones to business users vs. consumers, but largely due to price points on these handsets, but that’s changing. The next generation of musically inclined, consumer oriented phones are available now, they’re slicker, sexier and more geared for the mass market then ever before.

While the relatively pricey ($399) iPhone garners most of the spotlight, in this “Music enabled” phone space, many other options abound and at subsidized prices under a hundred bucks. You can be sure that manufactures like Motorola, LG and Nokia will add more music friendly phones at entry level prices, as the real money is in subscriptions not hardware.

As consumers become more comfortable listening to music on their phones, rather then a dedicated music player like an iPod the next wave of music and technology fusion will smash ashore.

The Social Networking of Mobile Music = Payday

This might be the single biggest paradigm shift that the music industry has ever had to deal with – Music on cell phones. But not because of the intricate legal challenges that the RIAA might dream up, rather due to the inherent social nature of music. On one hand music and communications devices should prompt a, “Well duh”, response, but surprisingly, the implications of this new delivery model have been under reported.

“Surprising” when you take in account the recent valuations of social networks like Facebook. Stay with me now… When you combine the features of an iPod like player on a closed distribution network, that has realtime two-way communication; suitable not only for texting, but ad placement and online sales – connect the dots. We are witnessing the birth of an entirely new social network entertainment and communications platform!

What I’m talking about here is Napster, Myspace, Twitter, iTunes, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, and Google all mashed together on a mobile platform – not a fixed desktop or clunky notebook – but a phone, the form factor users already are accustom to using and carrying with them at all times. Its a virtual link into every users wallet as far as telcos are concerned.

Given the present state of exclusive contracts and locked phones in the US market, once a wireless provider get you “hooked” on their phone and service you are locked in and your provider has a few tools to keep you there!

Convenience is King

Let’s face it, we are suckers for ease of use and simplified solutions. Telcos know this, and music on mobiles provide carriers yet another opportunity to exploit this basic human desire.

The sales pitch will go something like this: “Now your whole music collection is available anywhere you are! With {insert provider’s name here} online music library you can easily browse, sample and buy your favorite songs all from your phone.”

It will be criticized by audiophiles and tech aficionados, but is doesn’t matter – the mainstream market, especially everyone under 30 will go gag-gag and start downloading the flavor of the day tunes like a six year old binge eating Halloween candy.

Smart marketing would include an ability to “gift” a song to your friends, building on the social networking aspect of the service, and further shackling you and your “in network” friends.

The Subscription Model finally gets its day in the Sun

While all of these songs could be made available on an ala cart pricing schedule, the truly innovative providers will team with or build their own subscription model. All the music you want for XX dollars a month. Lots of upsides to this approach:

Low-end phones with limited memory will have that same access to the music library buy offloading songs played less often. Limited memory phones can be made available at a lower cost to get users into the service.

Users libraries will be available across multiple phones, so if you change out your handset all your selections just reload to it seamlessly.

End-to-end DRM; again tech savvy customers hate it, but mainstream users are clueless about it. Couple a locked phone platform with a proprietary network and these songs aren’t going anywhere – making content providers happy and more apt to cut deals.

Just like all subscription models, consumers will put on their own handcuffs – if they leave their carrier or cancel the music portion of the contract, none of the music remains.

Finally, an iTunes alternative. A subscription service properly implemented gives carriers a real option to present that customers might prefer over the 800 pound gorilla that is Apple’s iTunes Store. Again, this makes content providers happy, as they are sick of there agreements with the online distribution Goliath.

The Time is Now – Sort of…

So when will get to see and hear all this goodness? The short answer is soon – as the pieces are still coming together. Phone hardware is more than up to the challenge, marketing is on-board and hyping the offerings whether the carrier’s infrastructure is ready or not.

With the holidays upon us, and if not “The Holidays” themselves certainly the holiday shopping season, wireless companies are desperately working to convince all that its time buy. Thanks to recent high profile product launches of multi function devices like the Apple iPhone and many Microsoft Windows Mobile based phones, music enabled devices are on everyone’s wish list this year, but should users take the plunge?

It’s safe to say that for early adopters and users willing to “hack” a solution, now is the time, but mainstream adoption of this new bread of music enabled phone is still a ways off. As carriers, who are more motived then ever, setup there contracts with music stores or build out their own we will see better integration with handsets and the marketing to entice new customers. Look to see this level of fusion later in 2008, making next year’s holiday season the break through for Music on Mobiles.