Apple leads market for portable music players

9 Sep 2005

The market for portable music players is expected to double by the end of 2005, with 25.6 million units sold worldwide in the first half of the year, according to research from Canalys. This growth won’t be affected by the advent of new mobile phones with music playback features, the analyst firm said.

Canalys estimates that 25.6 million portable music players were sold globally in the first half of 2005, compared to 28.3 million sold in the whole of the preceding year. Apple is the overall market leader for the first six months of this year, with a 71.5pc share of the hard disk-based player segment. Creative is in second place with 16pc share, followed by Rio on 7.1pc.

According to Canalys, music-centric phones will have some impact on the portable music player market -this week’s launch of the Motorola ROKR phone with iTunes and Sony Ericsson’s Walkman-branded phone are two examples. However, there are many barriers to phone handset vendors making waves in this market, as Canalys said a mobile phone-based player would have limited appeal for serious music enthusiasts.

Rachel Lashford, an analyst with the UK firm, commented: “The convenience of having to carry one device less will usually be outweighed by the design compromises that result. And a heavy user is not going to pay a premium to download each track over the air to a phone when there are cheaper service alternatives that offer a more sophisticated browsing experience, interface and file management.”

Efforts to bridge music players and the mobile phone market make sense for handset vendors and for operators, said Canalys, because the concept of using a phone to listen to music will be spread to a wider audience. It cautioned that a scattergun approach is in danger of confusing potential customers.

Operators could find themselves in a quandary, as mobile handsets could be used to play content for which the operator sees no revenue. However, attempts to limit the functionality of these kinds of players runs the risk of disappointing consumers who would then seek out other devices.

Canalys said the interfaces on music-capable phones with smaller capacity than the dedicated MP3 players would need to become more user-friendly than those seen on most current models. This will be essential to broaden the market to include the more casual music consumer. Now that iTunes is available on a mobile phone, other handset suppliers will have to focus much more on usability issues, Canalys concluded.

By Gordon Smith