Radio Heads Mobile
By Carlo Longino, Thu Dec 02 15:15:00 GMT 2004

TheFeature member Russell Buckley writes: "Hardly a day seems to go by without yet another announcement about yet another company investing millions of dollars in mobile TV, but could more deeply integrating radio into mobile phones be a better choice?"

Russell, who writes The Mobile Weblog, says: "Lots of pundits, including myself, have argued that broadcasting existing TV content to peopleís phones simply wonít work. People are on the move (yes, thereíre mobile), so have shorter attention spans, and anyway, the viewing experience is pretty awful compared to the giant screens, coupled up to state-of-the-art sound systems, we have at home.

At the very least, weíve written, the format will need to be changed to cater for the different user experience. So maybe weíll have 5-minute clips available on demand, rather than the conventional 1/2 hour soaps or 90-minute features broadcast to our phones.

But maybe, weíre looking at the wrong medium altogether. Could radio and mobile be the natural marriage, with TV being the unwanted guest at the nuptuals?

When you think about it, radio on the move makes far more sense, whether your preference is for music or speech radio. You can do most things while listening to the radio Ė drive a car, walk around, read a book, even. And radio producers are experienced in formatting programming that can be consumed while youíre doing other things. This makes radio ideal for mobile usage, where multi-tasking is the norm.

In parallel, online radio is also going through a resurgence, with some really exciting things happening. The excellent Last FM, for instance, has managed to achieve what countless Web sites have failed to do: find ways of introducing music fans to new music. Itís very simple. You input 3 artists you like. They find other people with the same artists in their taste portfolio. And they then broadcast your own personalised micro-radio station to you, based on the preferences of the people with similar tastes.

You get familiar music, mixed with some new stuff Ė most of which, as if by magic, you really like. Itís brilliant.

Thereís even features for community Ė listening to the same channel at the same time in different places, as an example. And Joi Ito has even postulated the idea of dating based on shared musical tastes on Last FM.

Podcasting is the new new thing at the moment and exploding all over the Geek City, allowing you to put audio downloaded from the web onto your iPod or MP3 player. Itís taking off like crazy, but ultimately itís only really time-shifted radio that you can listen to on the move.

So is this just theory, or is there any evidence for the success of the mobile and radio combination? Certainly, some mobiles have been equipped with FM receivers and they arenít noted for their high demand. But thatís almost certainly as reception isnít terribly good, certainly if youíre traveling in an urban area.

But when I looked for evidence to support the theory, I came across FM Keitai, a joint venture between KDDI and Sanyo, who are obviously thinking along the same lines. Launched just over a year ago in Japan, it gets round the reception issues with clever technology and guess what? Itís signed up more than 500,000 users already.

Could we be about to enter radioís new Golden Age?"

He also adds the news that the CEO of satellite radio broadcaster XM says he expects satellite radio to be integrated into handsets within the next five years, and that XM has held discussions with service providers and hardware vendors. FM Keitai, too, is similar to Nokia's Visual Radio concept, which combines FM broadcasts with a parallel content channel over a cellular data link -- so it could be sooner rather than later that Western users are enjoying this type of radio technology on their mobiles.