5 Ways the Cellphone Will Change How You Listen to Music

The portable music revolution has only been with us for a few years, but we may already be on the cusp of the another paradigm shift: With smartphones becoming commoditized -- and with so many excellent music apps being designed for them -- it's becoming viable to leave your MP3 player at home and tune into the cloud.

This change will not be driven by cellphones that act like MP3 players, dishing out music that must be organized by the user. It won't even be about software that streams you your own music to your phone -- that's too hard. Instead, the next great thing in music technology will be smartphone applications that replicate the experience of listening to interactive, customized radio stations at a computer.

AOL Radio, imeem, Flycast, Last.fm, Omnifone, Pandora, SeeqPod, Shoutcast, Slacker and others already deliver interactive radio to the cellphone that's so good, it's finally a feasible replacement for the occasionally tedious task of keeping your portable music collection fresh.

Some phones, like the iPhone, let you watch YouTube videos for most music, which is as close to a free, on-demand portable listening experience as you're going to get for free. Offering an on-demand playback service to give users the level of control they're used to with their MP3 players is complicated; SeeqPod has a great solution too, but it's still wrangling with Warner Music Group in the courts.

"Creating licensing models that allow for a level of user control, so that the experience is similar to an a la carte purchase in terms of consumer choice (I can buy whatever is in the store’s catalog, download it and own it and listen to it, presumably, forever), that’s going to take awhile," said Michael McGuire, vice president of media research for Gartner via e-mail.

That's one reason why, in the immediate future, interactive radio will have a better chance of taking over mobile music market share than on-demand streaming or over-the-air download services. Another is that after ten or so years of moving away from programmed music, people are happy to let someone else do the work for a change. We could be moving towards a future when finding music in an online music store or file sharing network, downloading it, then sideloading it onto a portable will be come to seen as a waste of time.

With that in mind, here are five ways the cellphone will change the way you listen to music:

1. Yes, interactive radio on your phone can replace your MP3 player on some days

Now that interactive radio has gone mobile, you can listen to a mix of stuff you know and fresh material from artists you're probably going to like, thanks to the "Heart" and "Ban" buttons that let you hone the artist-based stations these services let you create. Even better, you can do all of this using the same profile you've already been honing on Pandora, Last.fm, imeem, or wherever.

The main problem with this is that you can't access your channels on the subway, plane, or anywhere else without a decent cell signal. But that problem has already been solved, to a certain extent.

Slacker's solution on the Blackberry platform is to cache plenty of songs to power several stations on an SD Card, while letting you do all the tagging, skipping, and other stuff that you would do while connected.

"It's actually a pretty slick feature," said Slacker senior vice president Jonathan Sasse, who added that the feature was only possible by working closely with RIM. "On the iPhone, it's a little different," he said, "because you're working within their development kit, you don't have a whole lot of access to the iPhone itself or the software talking to the iPhone."

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