Motorola and the Apple iPod Phone. Is This, Actually, A Good Idea?

So the Motorola/Apple iPod Phone is coming next week, and the speculation on the next (and the occassional dissenting voice) are all being picked up and spun – as is the way of the www. It’s nice to know that likes like The Register are watching over this blog, and even nicer that my thoughts on Apple and the relationship with the networks are worthy of linkage.

In amongst the dozens of speculative stories circulating, there seems to be no scepticism (well, apart from Ewan Spence) at all about whether a combined phone/mp3 device is, actually, a good idea.
Link: The Register

Now the post they’re referring to is “The Apple iPhone and MVNO: Some Thoughts,” where I went on about the reluctance of the networks to carry the phone. In a nutshell while they’d all be happy to make a profit on the phone, they don;t want to have their high spending geek customers load up from a PC/Mac based version of iTunes when they could happily buy over the air at an exhorbitant markup. So nothing to do with whether the iPod Phone is a really good idea.

So ahead of the launch on the 12th, I’d like to tell you what my thoughts are on music phones in general – I’ll leave specific iTunes, iPod and Apple issues until the launch itself. And you know what? The Register got it right. I don’t think that a music phone is a good idea. The phrase “Jack of all tradses, Master of none” might be close to my feelings, but then smartphoens and PDA’s are meant ot be swiss army knives of the world, and seeing as I’ve carried at least one (of many) devices for over ten years, it’s not the perfect fit it fist appears to be. What is a perfect fit is “choose the right tools for the job.” A portable music player needs many things.

Battery life is critical. Put simply it must be able to last a trip from Edinburgh to the West Coast of the USA for me. That works out to around 25-28 hours depending on my connections. When I hear reports that the iPod Shuffle can manage twelve hours on a charge, that’s just not going to cut it for me. Even the Mini with it’s now amazing 18 hours of battery wouldn’t help, and what happens, exactly, when the battery holds seven hours of charge? Oh that’s right I need to buy a new one.

Couple this requirement now to smartphones that need charged up generally every two days. Once I add music playback in some for of solid state (MMC/SD based) music player, what am I likely to get? Even assuming it matches the iPod Shuffle’s 12 hours, do I really want to run the batteries flat when I’m in the air, knowing I need that mobile to make calls on the ground?

The other big arguemnt, the number of tunes that can be carried, is again a simple rule. If I don’t want to hear a tune repeated through my journey, then that’s enough for me. Which means that 25 hour mark as mentioned above kicks in. A quick check using the 4 minutes a tune arithmetic that seems to be the standard manufacturers use means that I’ll need 15 songs an hour, so 375 songs. That’s going to need about 1.5gb of memory (assuming, again, the standard manufacturers 128Kbps bitrate). That’s nowhere near any of the current Shuffles, or flash based MP3 players.

Right now about the only player I would buy if I was to repleace my trusty minidisc player (which is very very unlikely) would be the 1gig Sony flash players. Atrac3 conversion will give me 45 hours of listening time at a comparable audio quality of 128kbp MP3. The battery life is 70 (seventy!) hours, and it doesn’t disrupt the functionality of any of the other classes of device I like to carry.

You know I can hear everyone’s arguments now trying to jsutify the iPohone. It’s the convenience. It’s the not having to carry another little box around with you. It’s an Apple thing (gah!). You just don’t get the power of the brand… Oh I do. You lot will buy anything with Apple on it. Cingular knows it, and it’ll happily take the money and run while you’re left with a mobile that really is a jack of all trades, and a master of none.