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Can Hard Drive Phones KILL THE iPOD?

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A new wave of mobile phones equipped with tiny yet powerful hard disk drives is threatening to put an end to the meteoric rise of the iPod as the public’s favourite portable digital music player.

When you look at the typical consumer, there are three things that they may come back to their house for if they have left one of them behind: their wallet, keys and mobile phone.

Now the cellular industry is trying to get to the point where even the wallet and the keys are part of the handset. There is a clear trend by which the mobile phone is positioning itself as the singular device that you take with you at all times.

Two years ago Samsung Electronics became the first handset maker to incorporate a hard disk drive (HDD) inside one of its models, featuring 1.5GB of data storage. Soon afterwards Nokia was launching its N91 phone/music player with an embedded 4GB HDD. Then Samsung responded again with an 8GB device (the SGH-i310), which is scheduled for a European launch during the second half of 2006.

Although current portable MP3 players such as Apple’s iPod and its competitors can store as much as 60GB of digital music, companies like Toshiba and Seagate are already developing handset-friendly hard drives that measure around one inch and will soon be able to match this capacity.

With this level of memory, you can replicate all the audio functions currently found in a standalone MP3 player. So the question becomes, why do you need two separate gadgets to accomplish the same goal? .”Both the standalone MP3 player and the mobile phone are pretty much the same form-factor – play music – the mobile offers an increasing number of features, with playing music being just one of them.

This new breed of mobiles has the potential not only to rival but also surpass the MP3 player as the portable music device of choice, but it wont happen overnight. There’ll be a timeframe during which the cellphone will still need to catch up technologically with established MP3 players. Besides, these advanced hard drive-enabled handsets are currently being priced at a premium $600 or 320 to $800 or 430, while you can get a standalone MP3 player for around $200 or 110.

So, I think we still have a few years out before the phone overtakes the MP3 player, but the trend has already started.

Since HDDs used in hadnsets incorporate the same moving parts found in PC and laptop disks, engineers have had to add a series of drop accelaration sensors designed to detect when the phone is starting to fall to the floor and automatically switch off power to the hard drive. Seagate’s latest one-inch HDD (12GB ST1.3 series) has an optional drop sensor that takes operational shock resistance up to 2000 Gs, letting the device survive a 1.5m drop onto hard concrete.

Within three tenths of a second, the protection mechanism moves the read/write heads off the platter and turns the motor off. The decision to incorporate MP3-playing functionality into high-end mobile phones seems to have originated with the handset vendors rather than the network operators.

Will operators be able to take any special advantage from added features? – “An ideal scenerio for the operators would have been if people used the cellular network to download their songs and play them on their handsets. But the problem is that this has tended to be a more expensive proposition. Some of the operators charge between $2 or 1.10 and $3 or 1.60 to download a song. That doesn’t even include what they charge you for the minutes you use when you do that, and on top of that some of them actually have a monthly subscription fee to use the service. When you compare that with an iTunes model, which is $0.99 or 0.55 a song, that’s not even a fair comparison”.

I believe operators might benefit from this trend by causing handset sales to go up once users start to demand the embedded MP3 function. “And, in a situation where phone penetration has already surpassed 100% of the population, if you can cause handset sales to spike again, you can see it as a new revenue opportunity”.

For all the threats that hard drive phones are posing to the iPod, there seem to be a few scenerios where a dedicated, standalone MP3 player would still be preferable for some users.

Current market trends show that consumers are now replacing their mobile phones approximately every 18 months. Which invites the question: would the need to transfer all this multimedia content deter users from storing so much on a phone?. “This might turn out to be of a minor annoyance than anything else. Because, for example, the data transfer rate for USB has gone up to 480Mbit/s, while ultra wideband wireless technology will hit up to 1Gbit/s. If you can do 1Gbit/s, you could transfer the content of an entire 8GB hard drive in 64 seconds, which is not really too bad.”

Indeed, Samsung’s new SGH-i310 comes equipped with USB 2.0 plug and play connectivity, which effectively turns the phone not only into an MP3 player but – perhaps more conveniently for the average business user – into an 8GB removable hard disk.

Featuring Windows Mobile 5.0 as its operating system, the handset can be used to transfer most common file formats to and from a PC. Its powerful storage capacity even allows users to record digital video via its 2Mpixel camera and MPEG4 / H.263 codecs. This makes one wonder whether digital camcorders might be the next consumer electronics gadget to suffer from the mobile phone’s ambitions to become the single device we need to carry.

So is Apple Computers actually worried about such an imminent threat to its all-conquering iPod? “I’m unable to answer this question, but we live to see what happens in the future”.

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Daniel Dwase is the webmaster and editor of www.best-ipod-online.com, a website that provides reviews and buyers guide of iPod Video, Nano, Shuffle and cheap iPod accessories and www.ipod-insider.blogspot.com, a blog that provides the latest news from Apple Computers about iPods.

Can Hard Drive Phones KILL THE iPOD?
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  • http://www.mp3obsession.com/ Cheap MP3s

    I think the mobile phone should replace the iPod for the very fact that iPods cost so much.
    Almost everyone has a phone (which is usually expensive as well), so why fork out for an iPod too, when you can get a 4gb memory card for your phone and fill that with music?
    I like the sound of the tiny hard drives, the more you can have in one device the better. Although that means there is more to go wrong….