Napster is coming to O2 (the UK mobile operator) but in a slightly counter intuitive way. Instead of O2 customers having the opportunity to have the full fledged subscription service on their mobile they instead get to search, preview and buy (a la carte) from the Napster catalogue on their devices, with Ericsson acting as facilitator.
Is it significant? Well from an O2 customer perspective you now have a deeper catalogue to chose from but beyond that I’m not so sure of the significance.
First it delivers in dual delivery which is basically saying “we know that the file you’ve bought on your mobile is of such poor quality that we’ll send you a decent quality one to your PC.” Fine it’s arguably an adequate solution for today’s mobile network capabilities but it isn’t equipped for the long run. The distinctions between mobile and PC are blurring, driven by more consumers hooking up their mobiles to PCs, sideloading music and accessing the world wide web on device. Nokia and Apple have evolved their businesses to help drive this change, by making one standard store that you can access by mobile or PC and get the same file quality and type. This is the sort of future proofing that dual delivery doesn’t have.
But the bigger issue for me is that this is just another download store. Admittedly it has good catalogue and discovery but as a download store it is entering an overly crowded marketplace and lacks differentiation. The irony is that as much as subscription services have failed on the PC in Europe, they have some potential on mobile, at the right price point. But that opportunity hasn’t been tapped here. As a download store, O2 isn’t just competing with Vodafone and Orange, they’re head to head against Apple and few come out of that face off smelling of roses.