Mobile Sands

June 8, 2009

Visiting the Sprint Store to See Palm Pre

Filed under: Smartphones — Tags: , , — AJ @ 1:03 pm

I was among the legions of smartphone enthusiasts who walked into Sprint stores this weekend. The Pre was, as expected, sold out by mid-saturday. I tried a trial unit and I must say, I was not disappointed!

All the cool features that Palm has been touting in its advertising – from multi-touch to the ability to run multiple applications – were there and worked really well.  I really liked the keyboard. It was much better than typing on the iPhone’s screen and felt more responsive than QWERTY keyboards I have used on Blackberry and Motorola Q. Though Palm does not have an large App store, the device comes pre-loaded with several great apps like Pandora, facebook, Google maps, and youtube – all of which worked nicely when I tried them. And the browser renders multimedia-heavy pages beautifully (I tried www.lonelyplanet.com).

Bloomberg estimates that a total of 150,000 Pres were sold this weekend. According to salesperson at the store I visited in Boston, they were allocated 60 devices, and were sold out by 11 AM on saturday. They were expecting 40 more devices on Monday and a similar number on Tuesday. I am 61st on the waiting list at this store and was told to expect a call on Tuesday evening.

While I was waiting for my turn to try out the Pre, I noticed Sprint’s Airave femtocell (displayed in a glass box near checkout) and asked the salesperson what it was and if I needed one. She replied that it was router that expanded wireless coverage but no one who lives in Boston really needs one; maybe in certain high-rises or in far-out suburbs. After taking a dig at T-Mobile’s coverage in the city, she calmly reassured me that “since Sprint uses the same technology as Verizon, our network is as good as theirs.” Ingenius!

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June 6, 2009

Smartphones may Herald the Golden Age of Internet Radio

Though Internet Radio has been around since the mid-nineties, it has not seriously challenged good-old FM radio (“Network radio”) in the same way that Internet video (YouTube, hulu and others) have challenged Network/Cable TV.  The reason – over 60% of radio listening is done “on-the-go”. And of the 40% of radio listening that is done at home, most is done while doing other things around the house – not when the listener is on her PC.  Well,  3G-capable smartphones change all this.  

Pandora, NPR, Y!Music and more

Pandora, the web-based service that let users create their own radio station, is the #1 free music application on Apple’s App Store, and is ranked #20 among all free apps.  Other personalized streaming audio apps on the iPhone include Slacker and CBS-owned Last.Fm.

Interestingly, network radio has been quick to enter the smartphone radio market.  NPR makes 300 of its stations available through the Public Radio Tuner app, ranked #5 among all free music apps.  Clear Channel, the largest owner of FM radio stations in the US makes some of its channels available through iHeartRadio.  Many CBS stations can be heard via AOLRadio.  Yahoo! Music launched an iPhone version of their service few months ago, and one can listen to thousands of radio stations from around the world using apps like Radio, ooTunesRadio, allRadio and WunderRadio.  

Many Internet Radio apps are quickly making their way to other smartphone platforms as well.  Slacker offers a Blackberry App. Pandora has been available on Blackberry, Windows and over 50 feature phones for a while but it recently made a  conscious choice to focus on Palm Pre as its second major smartphone platform. As a result, Pandora comes pre-installed on the Pre.  Mumbai-based Geodesic is focusing on Blackberry and Symbian phones instead with its Mundu Radio application.

Unlike mobile video, carriers are not blocking Internet radio

Wireless carriers are not blocking Internet radio applications because its bandwidth requirements are in line with 3G.  Internet radio stations use streaming rates between from 28.8 kbps to 128 kbps, speeds that can be easily supported even over moderately loaded 3G networks.   Someone who commutes for 2 hours/day for 22 days a month and listens to Pandora at 128 kbps would download around 250 MB of data – not a very large amount, and definitely within the data caps imposed by most 3G providers.  

Time for 3G carriers to challenge Satellite Radio

The main value proposition of satellite radio has been that one can listen to hundreds of radio stations, without the hassle of searching for the right one when crossing over from one metro area to another. Well, now a listener can do exactly that and much more with Internet radio on her mobile phone. She can listen to thousands of radio stations from around the globe or even better, listen to a station completely personalized to her tastes.  And do all this without paying anything over and above the price of the a 3G data plan.  

Though 3G carriers are not actively promoting Internet radioon phones  and challenging satellite radio, they should, and make a play for the dollars that are going to Sirius/XM today.  Sirius/XM charges $9.99 – 19.99 for its multiple radio station services and had 18.6M subscribers at the end of Q1’2009.  If these 18.6M subscribers were convinced that they could get the same selection of radio stations (or even better – personalized radio stations!) on their 3G phones – in addition to email, web and more – it would be easy for them to sign up for a $30/month plan.

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