Solid state music vs. solid state video

| September 22, 2008

John Paczkowski has a deservedly skeptical article today on how SanDisk’s announcement of the ‘slotMusic’ format, an effort to put individual music albums on microSD cards — so that you can plug an album into your cell phone or other devices that accept microSD cards.

John pretty much sums up the problems with this format:

But will [users] appreciate carrying that music around on a 0.6″ x 0.4″ medium that’s about the size of a fingernail? Seems easy to lose, doesn’t it (maybe Case Logic is planning a slotMusic binder)? And wouldn’t they rather carry around hundreds of songs, instead of the dozen or so stored on each slotMusic card? And what if the memory card in their phone is already in use, filled up with contacts, applications and other data? What then? And beyond this, haven’t iTunes and Amazon MP3 made consumers more accustomed to purchasing music à la carte? Why purchase a full album at $15, when all you really want are the only two good songs on it?

Some of you may remember that back in July of 2006, I suggested that both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD would be losers in the DVD format wars, precisely because they failed to meet my four criteria for supplanting an existing technology, viz.:

…provide a clearly superior and standardized alternative that can be used in parallel with existing solutions until those existing solutions wither away. Consider each of those points:

  • The alternative has to be clearly superior in one or more ways — so much so that the consumer has to be willing not only to spend money on it but to learn how to use it and to put up with some of the bumps and fits of adopting a new solution.
  • The alternative has to be standardized so as to achieve broad support and use, including from third-party firms.
  • The alternative has to be able to be used in parallel with the consumer’s existing solution rather than require the consumer to abandon his/her current solution and all the financial, emotional, and intellectual investment in that solution.
  • The alternative needs to expand in utility and functionality, and decrease in cost, until the user is willing to let go of his/her prior solution.

It’s clear that the slotMusic format doesn’t meet all these criteria:

— “The alternative has to be clearly superior in one or more ways.” Superior to what? Digital downloading of music (DDM) is the ‘existing technology’, and it’s hard to see how trying to handle tiny microSD cards with individual albums is superior to DDM (for all the reasons John cites). In other words, it’s not at all clear to me what ‘problem’ slotMusic is trying to solve; it seems to be that slotMusic causes more problems than it solves.

— “The alternative has to be standardized so as to achieve broad support and use, including from third-party firms.” Well, microSD does have support from third parties (e.g., cell phone manufacturers), but it is still closely tied to SanDisk.

— “The alternative has to be able to be used in parallel with the consumer’s existing solution rather than require the consumer to abandon his/her current solution and all the financial, emotional, and intellectual investment in that solution.” An OK hit here — except for all those folks with devices that don’t have (and probably never will have) microSD slots.

— “The alternative needs to expand in utility and functionality, and decrease in cost, until the user is willing to let go of his/her prior solution.” Again, and per John’s comments, it’s hard to see how individual albums on microSD cards will be better, cheaper, and more functional than DDM.

Now let’s talk about movies. Even though Blu-Ray has won the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD war, it has not prospered (see also here and here) — as I predicted over two years ago — against plain ol’ DVD and supporting technologies (DVR, digital downloads). Meanwhile, the Flash Video [FV] format I proposed in that same article — using solid-state distribution of movies, much like the slotMusic — continues to make sense. Here are the reasons why:

— Digital downloading of music is already the supplanting technology for compact discs. The slotMusic format is too little (so to speak) and too late. By contrast, digital downloading of video is still slow, uncertain, usually lower in resolution than what you get off of a normal DVD, and frequently a pain.

— As John notes in his reporting, you are no longer compelled to buy an entire album; just the few songs you want. On the other hand, you seldom want to buy or watch just a few scenes out of a movie.

— Tied into the last two points is the relative size of the files involved; individual songs typically run 1 to 15 megabytes (MB), whereas individual movies are roughly a thousand times larger (measured in gigabytes). This is why digital downloading of movies is a much less pleasant experience. And the push into high-definition, high-resolution video is only increasing that bandwidth issue.

Still, the question remains whether digital downloading of high-res/high-def movies will become sufficiently easy before a Flash Video format becomes technologically feasible. The good news for FV is that that the cost/storage curve is dropping far more rapidly that Moore’s Law (halving every 18 months) would predict. When I wrote my original post in July 2006, a 2GB SD card cost $90; you can now buy one retail for $10 to $15, a 6x to 9x drop in price (which, by Moore’s law, shouldn’t have happened for a few more years). So a FV card with 4GB of read-only solid state memory should be economically feasble within the next year or two.

It will be interesting to see if it happens.  ..bruce..

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Category: Information Technology, Main

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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