In Apple's Footsteps
By Eric Lin, Fri Sep 24 01:30:00 GMT 2004

Audible is following the lead of the iTunes Music Store. After the iPod made it popular, it is moving from a dedicated audio device to converged handsets.

Along with the announcement that it will begin to carry the Samsung SPH-i600, a Microsoft Smartphone, Sprint has announced that an Audible player will be included in the device's ROM. Users will be able to buy a variety of spoken audio content from news shows to books and play them back on their handsets. Sprint already has a partnership with MobiTV for video and audio content. Agreements with additional multimedia content partners signal a break from the typical carrier portal strategy. Sprint is shifting away from the typical news / sport / weather /content and treating the phone as a mobile entertainment device, not just an information portal.

Audible's choice to move to the handset is equally noteworthy. It already has software partnerships in place that allow subscribers to play spoken content on Microsoft Pocket PCs, Apple's iPod, and on desktop computers. Since the underlying software for Microsoft Pocket PCs and Smartphones is so similar, it made sense for Audible to adapt the software to the growing Smartphone platform, especially in light of shrinking PDA sales, and the exit of some Pocket PC manufacturers from the North American Market. Although the application will initially be released in the ROM of Sprint's Smartphone, there is nothing that technically prevents Audible from offering the player as a download to users of any Microsoft Smartphone. Sprint's is selling the SPH-i600 for a rather hefty $650, however other carriers have sold Microsoft smartphones for as little as $100.

Audible is taking similar to Apple (which is ironic, since it also is a partner of Apple's), creating distribution partnerships that get its content on both high end devices like iPods as well as more common devices like mobile phones (at least if the Audible player is offered for other Microsoft Smartphones as a download). Now that it has partnerships with a few of the important high-end players, Audible is pitching itself as an audio content aggregator to mobile portals, which really isn't all that different from what Apple or Microsoft are doing are doing with their music stores. The only difference being the type of audio content each offers.