CeBIT 2004: Streaming Ahead
By Eric Lin, Wed Mar 17 20:30:00 GMT 2004

Sony announced a new service that will stream music to Symbian smartphones over GPRS. Although streaming services are getting popular on the desktop, are they ready for for the handy?

There are classic examples of mobile devices that have come out before technology or society was ready for them, Apple's Newton for one. Mobile music may be the next technology to join the Newton's legacy. In a few years' time we may all be using a similar technology, but very few will use it this year.

During their CeBit press conference today, Sony revealed that they have been testing a music service code named Personal Media Assistant (PMA) with TeliaSonera and that they will launch the service in two to three months. When launched, it will have a catchier name, they promise us.

We were already skeptical of mobile music services when they offer downloads. PMA has us even more skeptical because it is a streaming service - over GPRS. From a downloadable application (initially for the Sony Ericsson P800 and P900, Nokia 6600 and Siemens SX1), users will be able to choose music from a variety of genres, sort by decade or mood and then the songs will start streaming to the handset. As the service starts building a playlist on the handy, users can gives songs the thumbs up or down, helping the system to pick music you like. If you like a song, a playlist or an artist, you can share that with a friend who also uses PMA.

There are other features we're less impressed with, but they are not part of PMA's core purpose - like sending your friends messages and pictures, or streaming audio of local news.

MusicMatch and Napster's streaming services are both getting positive reviews from users, so the idea of a streaming music service is one whose time has come. But streaming over GPRS raises a number of issues the PC services don't have to worry about- price, for starters. If TeliaSonera doesn't introduce flat-rate GPRS, who would pay to stream kilobytes, even megabytes of music to their mobile phone, even at TeliaSonera's reasonable prices (They have a plan of 100 MB for EUR 18.30.)? Are users ready to pay for a service and the data costs for a static-y 30 kbps stream from Sony? Not that any of these smartphones have particularly high quality sound, but at least three out of the four have stereo output. Even if the stereo models are portrayed as music-friendly handys, I don't think they're streaming music friendly, at least not these models. PMA is not inherently flawed, it's just a little early. Mobile streaming services' time will come when the phones and networks are ready.