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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OPINION

4 Industries on the Brink of Technological Disruption

One of the stories told in management classes as an example of a recurring mistake companies make when their industry is transitioning focuses on buggy makers at the turn of the last century.

Those that figured out they were in the personal transportation business pivoted to cars. Most of the others that thought they were only in the buggy business became extinct because their market moved to cars, and they didn’t.

Seems obvious after the fact, but clearly at the time it didn’t seem obvious at all because most buggy makers and those that sold horses and did blacksmithing went out of business.

In the case of autonomous cars, we are looking at moving from car ownership to a service like Uber that will provide a car just when we need it.

But, going further, initially with services like Zoom and eventually with the metaverse extending the concept of holoportation — coupled with drone delivery and the pandemic — will we even need cars as much, or at all, in the future?

Holoportation, or the use of avatars to travel virtually, is not considered personal transportation today. But if it is successful, it could eliminate most personal transportation in the future, and in turn put existing car makers in the same category as those buggy makers were a century ago.

Should holoportation be considered part of the transportation industry, or should existing personal transportation be considered part of old school collaboration, social networking, and shopping?

Let’s talk about a some of these big coming technology disruptions. Then we’ll close with my product of the week, a head-mounted display from TCL called the Nxtwear Air that could become this year’s must-have gadget.

Personal Transportation

Before the pandemic, personal transportation was mostly focused on cars with air transport, human powered transport, and even motorcycles largely falling into different classes. But with the increased use of video conferencing and collaboration products like Zoom, Teams, and Webex, the need for business travel has taken a significant hit.

Among the cool stuff at CES this yearPortl and La Vitre demonstrated a way to visit family and friends virtually, while a solution from ARHT Media called Holopresence showed how you can speak at any remote event without ever leaving your home, yet appear to actually be there.

While we are currently still habit-bound to travel, the pandemic is forcing us to reconsider our safety and aggressively consider not traveling. We don’t really need to go to the store anymore as delivery options have expanded. Because of Covid, our doctors increasingly meet with us remotely, and we’ve been able to use services like Amazon and eBay to get around our need to go to malls and department stores.

When cars become truly autonomous, why will we need to own one for the few times we have to leave our homes? Just contact the car service and an automated vehicle will appear at your door and function pretty much like an elevator in a high rise. You don’t need to own an elevator, so why would you need to own a car?

At CES, a lot of the car designs looked more like rolling living rooms than cars, and several of them were rather ugly. But so are elevators, and we don’t seem to mind that much what they look like any more than we used to care about those old yellow cabs or buses.

Plus, we haven’t even begun to talk about flying cars and people-carrying drones, both of which are advancing very quickly. Once vehicles are autonomous, we won’t need professional drivers or driver’s licenses because humans won’t be driving.

Film and Television

In video games, we have a concept called NPC, which is a non-player character that follows a set script. But isn’t that what actors and extras do? Soon, it might be far easier to program an NPC to appear in a movie and convert a script to a realistic representation of the character far easier, and far less expensively than hiring a person.

Actors can get sick, they can have behavioral issues, they can get into trouble off screen resulting in their termination, and they get more expensive every subsequent time you use them. Movies today are largely filmed with computer graphics anyway and it is much easier for a rendered character to operate on a virtual stage than it is for a human.

Now, it isn’t just the acting. Script writing can now be done using AI. You don’t need catering or recruitment for virtual players, and with a digital movie-making engine, you can more easily rewrite the script and digitally reshoot the scene when fine tuning the result with digital characters than with humans.

Studios like Dust are already creating relatively high-quality content using far cheaper digital tools, and an increasing number of movies today use rendered people as extras for scenes that previously would have required humans in those roles.

So, do we replace directors, writers, actors, extras, camera people, and all the rest of the movie staff with a few programmers and advanced artificial intelligence? The result is still a movie — and services like Netflix and Amazon have a never-ending appetite for content today. It seems to me like video game studios might well displace movie studios before this trend is over.

Farming

Traditional farming methods are becoming largely obsolete due to climate change. We are moving to warehouse farms which produce more food in much less space and can exist a lot closer to customers located in cities.

Farms such as these are increasingly tended by robots and autonomous equipment to reduce cost and contamination and operate at a scale that traditional farms generally can’t match.

In addition, for ranchers, we are developing healthier, tasty alternatives to beef, chicken, and other animal protein sources.

These changes should be not only more reliable during times of rapid weather change, but also potentially more beneficial for the environment because you don’t need to clear rain forests and you no longer need to eat other animals. Some of the animals we eat are huge producers of methane gas which contribute significantly to climate change.

Does this mean farming will become like manufacturing, particularly when we start 3D printing food? The farm of the future could simply be another factory.

Manufacturing

Warehouses and factories are changing with the increased use of robots and reduced need for human workers. Factories effectively evolve into huge 3D printers that can produce both cookie cutter products at volume, and far less expensive custom offerings thanks to increased automation.

Are factories still factories once they are fully automated? Or are they just huge appliances that 3D print the products we want on-demand and ship them using the increasing variety of autonomous vehicles and package-carrying drones?

Fully automated 3D printing factories should have fewer shutdowns, be less impacted by inflation slowing their growth, and be more able to meet transitory demand using a just-in-time manufacturing model. Also, because these automated factories will use 3D printing as part of their process, they can be smaller, more localized, and probably more resistant to logistics disruption.

Wrapping Up: Tip of the Iceberg

I could go on for pages about the massive disruption of electrics replacing internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, personal robots, military drones (we may not need military pilots or drivers in a few years), fast food robots turning fast food restaurants into large food vending machines, and satellite-based data and voice services — and we already have advanced coffee vending machines that make a better cup of coffee than Starbucks.

Is personal transportation actually personal, or is it becoming part of the communications market? Are restaurants, factories and 3D printers merging to become part of the technology market? Are movies and video games going to merge and provide different experiences but use the same creation tools and back-end. If so, what do we call the result?

PCs and smartphones are merging at a rapid pace, but is the result an enhanced smartphone or a more portable PC? These are all things that will be addressed in the next decade and those companies that figure out what new segment they are in will likely survive. Those that don’t anticipate these changes and evolve with the times probably won’t.

But one thing is for sure, this decade is going to be known for both an unprecedented amount of change and a lot of companies and people suddenly discovering that the road they were on dead-ended. You’ve been warned.

Rob Enderle's Technology Product of the Week

TCL Nxtwear Air Wearable Display Glasses

One of the coming disruptions are head-mounted displays which are finally reaching a price and performance level that makes them viable. The TCL Nxtwear Air head mounted display is powered by the smartphone or PC it is connected to and it projects a HD image into the glasses that is like watching a 140-inch screen from four meters away.

TCL Nxtwear Air Wearable Display Glasses

While this is mostly for movie watching rather than a monitor for work or gaming, it is a significant step toward that latter category and, eventually, head-mounted displays will force a major shift between PCs and smartphones, particularly when coupled with cloud services like Windows 365.

Once they are in wide use, the need for monitors, laptops with screens, and even personal TVs may become a thing of the past. We may decide that even when we are sitting together, using our own screens which can be adjusted for our eyesight and unique problems (like colorblindness) will be a better solution than the large screen experiences we have today.

What makes these latest TCL glasses interesting is that they are 30 percent lighter than previous generations and they don’t look dorky. The glasses provide decent detail (though I expect the 4K glasses that will eventually follow will be better), deep colors and surprisingly deep blacks. They have built in speakers that sound pretty good and mean you can often leave the headphones at home (I’d still use headphones on planes or when near others, however).

Expected to cost just under $700, these glasses are competitively priced when you consider that 140-inch display likely costs more than any car you’ve ever purchased, making them potentially a true value — and my product of the week.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

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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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