Although the entertainment industry, and most specifically the music industry, has yet to truly leverage the potential of Over-the-Air (OTA) downloads to mobile devices with the North American market, the threat of the concept becoming obsolete before it even gets of the ground is very real.Without finger-pointing back to the music industry’s slow adoption of digital media in the first place and its inherent need to diminish the customer experience with its product in the name of protectionism this could be construed as another example of slow adoption.
However, the fault lies not only with the music industry and its inability to leverage the distribution rights to the works but in the device manufacturers and the mobile information carriers as well. Consider this first: Only about two percent of US customers download music to their handsets over the air according to Jupiter Research. Only five percent of music-capable handsets get music sideloaded from nearby PCs as well. 28 million US customers will have music-capable handsets at the end of this year, while a minimal percentage will actually use that capability and there is little being done in any industry to utalize the continued development of these hand-held multimedia offerings as an additional revenue stream.
The Carriers & Store fronts
Of the four major carriers only Verizon offers a dedicated OTA storefront to its customers integrating offerings from device content (such as ringtones) to full-length songs to A/V options. AT&T (formerly Cingular) and T-Mobile provide partnerships along limited corporate offerings with AT&T leading the way in the distribution partnership world inking diverse content deals with eMusic, Naptster, Rhapsody and iTunes to name a few. The reality is though, there is little done by the carriers to leverage these offerings to their consumers. In part, this may be because the usage rates for existing media plans are minimal, never mind the obvious disparity in numbers between contracted consumers and those with an added media bundle package. Furthermore, with only Verizon controlling content, there’s little incentive as part of the partnerships for the carriers to leverage the storefronts beyond a passing marketing point.
As for the storefronts themselves, the WAP version are as awkward as most existing web applications on mobile devices which diminishes the consumer experience on a platform most are not comfortable with in the first place. The browser version of these storefronts is no better, especially in that these storefronts are not designed for the web-capabilities of most paired down mobile browsers.
Finally, going the integrated to the handset software route, these are rarely functional offerings due to the limited memory space in the operating systems and not the most seamless integrations as user interfaces, often buried on the phones function options. However, even with redesigns the question on the interaction end still remains network speeds. No one wants to wait around for the download to complete and with OTA via a 2G network it can be as painstakingly slow as 14k dialup a decade ago. Until there is a full coverage 3G network with enough bandwidth to overcome pipeline squeeze and devices that interact seamlessly on the network this will continue to stifle the full-length OTA and even stream-based services.
Devices & Storage
Another reoccurring problem lies in the storage of OTA purchases. This three-fold dilemma continues to hamper every attempt at the concept.
First, date storage on mobile devices continues to be an issue. Removable cards solve some problems but the fact of the matter is, wireless devices are currently limited in their storage and even the self-proclaimed monolith of storage the 8-gig iPhone is insufficient when you consider the breadth of potential use of such a multi-media offering. 1-gig to an operating system and updates followed by any combination of music, photos, documents, A/V clips, eventually add-on apps and other downloads, etc. The scant storage might be greater than that of the Nano, but the comparative size and cost hardly quantifies when you look at the possibly. This is not to fault Apple’s disc-space issue, as other smart phone and mobile entertainment-communication devices by Nokia, Samsung, Research in Motion, Palm and others fall equally as short in their on-device storage and only nominally make up the difference in removable storage not offered by iPhone Apple. To truly take advantage of OTA it is going to require significant storage increases.
Second, data encryption / file protection. As always, this is a multi-part argument. Eventually it leads back to the music and entertainment industry’s incessant need for DRM technology, but putting the DRM music argument aside, the device manufacturers and underlying software play and equal role. A lack of interoperability continues to plague mobile operating systems, software applications and file formatting and due to the proprietary nature of some of these applications and file formats there is an underlying inability to seamlessly utilize OTA downloads due to these differing standards. Some of the dis-interoperability lies in the non-mobile community in general and some of it is very device specific in mobile.
However, the overwhelming problem still remains, if OTA purchases cannot be universally used then the consumer is less likely to engage in purchase. With OTA downloads in some cases going for 2-3x the cost of their laptop digital counterpart purchase and both the inability to transfer the purchase from handset-to-handset or handset to permanent storage, and in some cases use an OTA purchase on the purchasing device due to encryption restrictions or file dis-interoperability.
Third, data transfer. As alluded to above data transfer is a problem and beyond the interoperability requirements for it there is the more pressing issue of basic file transfer. Although the argument easily can go beyond the conceptualization of backing up the OTA purchases to that of freedom-of-use arguments, it is important to focus on the technical issues in the transfer of data first. Of the few options available for data transfer from device-to-storage there is little-to-no continuity from both device-to-device and in regards to system interoperability in these methods. Some options include uploading to a third-party server for storage which may or may not allow for subsequent download to a non-mobile personal storage device, blue-tooth beaming of data and sideloading (wireline connection between the device and computer).
However, due to manufacturer, software platforms and in some cases communications carrier restrictions content transfer is hindered or completely impossible. Due to these reasons, even with DRM-free formatting of content, it is still virtually impossible in some cases to provide use .
As mentioned above, sideloading is less than utilized by the populous to begin with. Part of the reason why could be surmised in the fact there is not a single standard for the format. Different handsets require different plugs for sideloading and different software protocols in order to execute the function. That is probably the biggest deterrent but as the system becomes more unified between manufacturers and developers it will become less of a problem
The impending issue will be in that of developing a standard sideloading standard. There are considerable obstacles in as such due to DRM. Music and in a grander scheme entertainment probably will not be the standard-bearers to this transition as it might be the software developers who will fight the ability to transfer their developments freely from PC to handset and vice versa.
Sideloading represents one of the biggest potential breakthroughs in usership and if utilized properly could allow for a huge execution. However, finding the standard in the midst of all the other elements in the genre will be a difficult thing for both software companies and the DRM developers. There is a broad range of reasons why allowing the standardization will be a slow progress.
Software developers will fight the sildeloading standard before the entertainment industry can even gain a grasp on one idea. The primary reason is protectionaslism for their intellectual property. If sideloading prevails the ability for the developers who leverage preloaded software with the handset manufacturers or carriers will loose, never mind the fact that the handsetters and carriers will also lose the leverage of being able to use those facets as marketing points.
Furthermore, as open sourcing become more the pride of new technology, sideloading will continue to devalue the ability to “sell” technology and add to the complexity in WAP based formatting and even as WAP becomes obsolete for pure-browser versions the browser problems associated in traditional laptop computing. Not including the interoperability problems associated with potential wifi/wimax in the future, this will be an issue in integrating the formatting.
There is not easy answer to disseminating the OTA idea and unfortunately the consensus is still years away in valuing it for entertainment, which needs desperately the progress sooner rather than later. If a standard can be set and DRM can be satiated in the configuration the consumer acceptance of the format will require an integrated marketing effort from not only entertainment (who have a notorious inability to leverage technology) but the software providers, carriers and such which may not be compatible in the first place.