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Listening on the move …

May 10, 2010

Like a lot of folks, I like to listen to things when I’m driving. I listen to music (a variety ranging from Bach to U2) of course, but I also like to listen to mp3 audiobooks, and news commentary.

Since I got the iPhone, I’ve noticed a change in my listening. I have turned off my radio and CD player. I still listen to a lot of what i did before, in fact I would say more of it, but now I use the apps on the iPhone such as Pandora, NPR, and of course iPod.  Some of this is in the form of podcasts, but mostly I find I’m just doing straight streaming.

The immediate benefit for me was that I had much more flexibility and choice. I could listen to what I wanted, when I wanted. I could listen to NPR “On Point” or whatever else I had put on the top of my NPR playlist. At other times, I’d switch to my own private Norah Jones  or Mo’ Better Blues channel on Pandora. Half the time I would also be listening to various mp3 audiobooks. (Recently just finished “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria – Highly recommended)

The ability to just stream whatever music or news was what pulled me into this. But what I hadn’t realized was that I was also getting much better audio quality. I noticed this recently when I turned on my radio to WBUR 90.9 NBR for the first time in a while. For some reason – it has become very scratchy along various stretches of my commute. I switched to the iPhone and immediately it was much better. No scratches and much clearer.

That being said there are still some problems. The biggest of course is ATT’s flaky coverage. While in most cases it is alright, on my commute there are a couple of spots where it is touch and go. You can definitely hear a momentary break as the data connection is lost.  Since I live in Boston, it is probably better than in San Francisco or New York.

One added benefit, somewhat unrelated to the above, is that on the iPhone I discovered that I can play audio books back at 2x speeds without losing any words. Which really makes listening to books much faster.

Anyway, the end result is that I very rarely listen to “live” radio now.  I do listen to the radio programs but it is as streaming radio and very much “on-demand”.

Now, this does take up some bandwidth. including all my normal web surfing and email, I seem to be running near the ATT limit of 3 -5GB per month.

What is the setup for this ? Right now, I’m just use a simple $30 charger + FM transmitter system for my iPhone – that is how many of the early adopters are using it now I believe. Though if you have the Ford fusion, the Ford Sync platform will allow you to listen to Pandora on the iPhone even more easily.

While I acknowledge, as my wife likes to point out, I am a bit of a geek, I find it hard to believe that once smartphones become pervasive this form of “listening” will not become more pervasive.

I wonder these days, how soon will this become the “preferred” mode of access for people ? Would my parents like this sort of thing ? Probably not at first.  For them the ease of use the current car audio systems will be win out. But for many others, I have to believe it is only a matter of time.  Note, the nytimes recently had an article on this.

This trend does raise some interesting questions. For example, obviously the Ford Sync platform is a great platform for enabling this. But how about other cars ? Will they all have their own platforms ? in such a world, how do we all get our own music ? Do you need an app for every car and phone combination ? Also what happens to satellite services such as Sirius XM ?

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