The iPod Will Always Beat The Cellphone

by James R. Stoup Jun 09, 2005

Lately it seems that Bill Gates has been doing a bit of puppeteering. He has his hands up the backs of so many tech pundits it’s hard to keep track. And they all seem to mouth his words perfectly. It cracks me up to hear “the iPod is doomed” because to date, the following were all supposed to have killed the iPod: Sonys cheap crap, Creative’s even worse cheap crap, Dell’s mass produced black brick of uselessness, Napster (don’t even get me started here) and now we hear that cell phones will ultimately be the end of the iPod.


Cell phones huh? Pardon me if I go out and buy more Apple stock.

You see, the argument goes something like this:

Soon everyone will have a cell phone. And all of those people who listen to music via an iPod will realize that they could carry around one device and not two. Thus everyone will throw their iPods away and rush out and buy a cell phone that plays music.

Now, when you read this it should be very clear that this came from MS because this is how Gates thinks. He firmly believes in that eternal super Swiss Army knife that does everything for everyone all the time. Come, where else have you heard something like this before? Think hard. Yes, that’s right, Microsoft’s Media Center PC! Now that’s a product that sucks out loud. But that cell phone idea will take off like wild fire. Um, I am thinking no.

I am sure that some of you are thinking that the logic behind the cell phone argument is sound. But, then again, in that light the logic behind the Media Center PC is also sound. Everyone will have a computer, a TV, a VCR, a DVD player and a stereo system one day, so why not hook them all together? That way you can control everything from your PC. It will be one giant home entertainment Swiss Army Knife. Sounds like they should be flying off the shelf, why aren’t they? Because while at first it sounds logical, there are several major flaws that are conveniently glossed over. Here are a few.

Assuming that you only have the equipment listed above then that means you have five pieces of electronics that, in all probability, were made by five different manufacturers. Now, they are all going to need to be tied into a sixth product, the OS, which was made by yet a different company. Oh, and did I mention that they have to work flawlessly all of the time? Because if I am a consumer I am thinking to myself, before I connected my stuff to this Media Center thing my TV, DVD player, etc. always came on. It never locked up, got spyware, froze, or anything else. So, if I am really going to buy into this whole Media Center thing then it has to work at least as good as my old setup or else why bother. With me so far?

This is where the problem starts. You see, you are relying on Windows and Microsoft technology to work perfectly with hundreds of third party pieces of hardware and media. If you honestly believe that this will work then you probably voted for Ross Perot and drive a Pontiac. Lest we forget, even on a good day Windows can’t even attempt to run well unless you have a third party firewall, virus protection, 2 service packs and several spyware/adware sweepers. And yet Bill seems to think in spite of these hurdles people will have no problem trusting him with their home entertainment. I don’t think so Bill.

Regardless of what Bill or any other number of pundits think people aren’t going to rush out and buy Media Centers because they are the “wave of the future”. They are going to go buy what works and that ain’t your stuff. When “user interface” is 57th on your list of priorities then please don’t be surprised when it doesn’t sell.

But lets go back to this “cell phone as an MP3 player” idea. Don’t you see it’s the Swiss Army Knife all over again? It’s the Windows philosophy plain and simple, “lets cram as many features as possible into XP. Now, we won’t be very good at one particular thing, but at least we will have covered all of our bases.”  They are attempting to be everything to everyone and ultimately failing to excel at anything.

I don’t want a cell phone that plays music because it won’t have as good an interface as the iPod. It won’t have the feel of an iPod. It won’t have the shape of an iPod. In short, it won’t be! But if Bill has his way I can tell you what these new “super phones” will have. It will have a whole lot of useless features, bolted on crap, poor software and a really painful interface. But who cares right?  At least it will play songs and let me call people. Because those are two completely unrelated activities that I have longed to do together for ages.

Come to think of it, since everyone will have a cell phone in the future, they won’t need remote controls for their home electronics so lets make a cell phone/remote control/iPod. Sound cool? Hey, what about garage door openers? Yeah, a cell phone/remote control/iPod/garage door opener, that’s what everyone needs. And since everyone has a microwave, lets put a controller for that in there too. And on for the house lights, and a remote car starter, and an electric shaver (because everyone shaves something) and and and and and there are just so many cool things we could put in a cell phone! Doesn’t that just sound like the best idea ever?!

In conclusion the Super Swiss Army Knife Cell Phone iPod will fail because a product that does two things poorly will lose to two products that each do one thing very well.


  • Don’t forget the whole battery thing - how annoyed will you be at the end of a long journey, you need to ring someone to tell them you’re late and you find you can’t because you’ve been listening to music all the way there, and now you’re phone is dead!

    can’t see it working, myself. Why music is more useful on a phone than, say, a torch to help you find your keys is beyond me - oh, of course, it’s important because it is a growth area at the moment, and Apple are doing well in it…

    Jonathan Baldwin had this to say on Jun 10, 2005 Posts: 1
  • The biggest reason the music player/cell phone amalgamation will fail is because in the end, it will be too expensive to put any amount of music on it. Cell phone companies do not want you to put any music on it any other way than through their custom store at $3.00 a song. This is precisely the reason the Motorola/Apple phone (the iPhone??) has been kept off the market. If you can copy music to it from your computer and bypass the cell network, there’s no revenue for the cell phone company and they don’t want it.

    Since most people’s music library at least began with their CDs. All of that music will be unavailable to you, and the cell company’s response will be to “buy another copy of a song you already own on our network, at our prices, to listen on your cell phone”.

    And of course, if you buy it through their network, what happens when you change companies? Cell phone companies have the highest churn rate out of any industry - - mostly because all their promotions target new customers and they never give offers to existing customers, encouraging you to bounce from company to company every time you want a new phone or new minutes package. Will all your “Sprint Music” go away when you switch to Verizon or Cingular? I’m not going to count on some sort of mutual cooperation between the cell companies.

    Kris Thom White had this to say on Jun 10, 2005 Posts: 18
  • Shoot me, I love XP Media Center Edition…  I don’t use it as a PC, dont check email on it, surf the web on it, or run non-Media Center apps on it so therefore it works just great.  You could make the case now that I’m missing half the point of an OS-controlled television entertainment environment and I would confess that you’re absolutely right.  However, it IS just one box that plays DVD’s, records my TV shows in both SD and HD, lets me listen to my music, view my photos, and best of all - catalogs and lets me view all of my hard drive based movies and videos without discs (an unintended DRM-free plus to be sure!).  Having said that, I bought a Treo 650 late last year and love it - as a phone and simple PDA w/internet.  When the laptop isnt around I can check email, etc. and it works great!  An iPod replacement though?  Hardly.  I had dreams of buying myself a nice 1GB SD card and loading up with songs to listen to whenever I want.  The problem wasn’t really the interface though (which is bad), the problem was the two different modes of operation one has to use for each of these functions.  I don’t talk on the phone with stereo headphones and I certainly don’t listen to music with a phone up to my left ear.  This requires as much conversion between the two ‘modes’ as to make carrying around an iPod along with a phone seem extremely convenient.

    And let’s face it - set music aside and focus on other things our new phones are supposed to do well… such as photography.  The cell phone hasn’t replaced even the lowest end digital camera yet and really isn’t likely to in the near future.  They’ve been working on that now for 2+ years and the results are still mediocre.  Introducing yet another lackluster feature and expecting it to compete with something so insanely perfect as the iPod just makes no sense to me at all.

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Jun 11, 2005 Posts: 112
  • Phone/camera, camera/mp3 player, phone/camera/mp3 player, etc.
    I read an interview with a former Psion/Symbian exec that called it the ‘spork’ problem (the fork/spoon combination that ends up being a crappy fork and a crappy spoon).
    I used my Sony Ericsson Z1010 as a mp3 player for a while before I got my iPod. Besides having a really poor interface I think the real deal breaker when it comes to combining mp3 players and phones is battery life. I don’t want to worry about draining my phone battery when I listen to music, especially if I’m on a trip and need to phone someone when I arrive.

    henrrrik had this to say on Jun 11, 2005 Posts: 5
  • I think the problem all boils down to the issue with battery life. I had MP3 on my palm but I was always worried about the battery life when listening to music. Listening to music is just pleasure. Contact information, notes etc is much more important when you are on the move. If my iPod dies, who cares? It’s just for fun anyway, there is nothing important on it.

    But I do believe that people do like the swiss army knife thing. It is just that is very difficult to get right. That doesn’t mean it is impossible though. When the battery problem has been dealt with I think cellphones could take over for the iPod. But that is still many years away. By then there is probably phone functionality in iPod ;-D

    Erik Engheim had this to say on Jun 11, 2005 Posts: 4
  • I’m sure all of this is absolutely true and logical…until the day Apple announces the portable cell phone/mp3 player.  Then it’ll be the greatest idea since sliced bread.  After all, Gates isn’t the only one with the “swiss army knife” mentality.  I do recall Jobs talking about the idea of the Apple as the digital media center at least once or twice.

    The problem with the spork analogy is that the cell phone only really has to do one thing well and the other sort of okay.  For example, I would never buy a cell phone because it had a camera.  But I did buy a cell phone with a camera in it and I do actually use it.  In fact, everyone I know who has a camera phone does use the camera at least sometimes.

    Now, that obviously doesn’t mean that the camera phone is going to supplant the stand-alone digital camera.  But it doesn’t make the melding of the two either impossible or impractical.  I’d buy a phone with an mp3 player on it, and I’d probably use it too.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 12, 2005 Posts: 2220
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