The concept of digital music store has been around for quite some time, with iTunes Store being the biggest and well-known of all. However, it is unfortunate that iTunes is not available in Asia Pacific with the exception of Australia and Japan. Without iTunes Store, local consumers could not access the huge library of music to purchase and download.
For a number of years, there was an absence of a viable alternative to the iTunes Store. Several brands such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson hoped to cash in on the void but met with little success. Nokia introduced its Nokia Comes With Music service in late 2007. Users who purchase Comes with Music editions of Nokia phones can enjoy up to two years of free unlimited music downloads. However, the service was withdrawn earlier this year due to poor response. Currently, it has the Nokia Music Store as part of its Ovi Store, which registered more than a billion downloads last year. Sony Ericsson also has its PlayNow plus service integrated with its Walkman phones but with SingTel being the exclusive operator to provide it. The PlayNow plus service met with lukewarm response as well.
In recent years, the rapid adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets provided yet another opportunity to cash in on the potential need for digital music stores in Singapore. The convergence of personal entertainment on these devices means that consumers are increasingly dependent on one or two devices to fulfill their communication, entertainment and work needs. The key to consumers utilizing the service is seamless integration with their mobile devices. Take iTunes for example, it is without doubt a one-stop platform that sync your multimedia content on your Mac devices (iPhone, iPod, Macs). It is that "simple". The earlier two services from Nokia and Sony Ericsson failed to be as successful as iTunes due to limited availability. It is restricted to only one particular product and brand.
SingTel is among the first to spot the trend and came up with its AMPed music service. Not only is it free for SingTel users to download, the AMPed app is compatible with a wide range of mobile phones. As long as you are a SingTel subscriber, you can download as many songs as you like. If you are not on a contract, you have to renew the tracks on a monthly basis so that they remain playable. However, if you are on contractual subscription, you do not need to do so. The only catch here is that you are limited to 15 songs per month to download to keep and share with your friends.
BlackBerry is the latest company to jump onto the bandwagon by teaming up with 7digital to launch Singapore's first localized music store on a tablet. Available as part of the latest free software upgrade for the BlackBerry PlayBook, users here can access more than nine million tracks through the new Music Store app. Not only does the app allow users to easily search for songs, albums and artists, it also allows them to preview tracks before making a purchase. To make it easier for users, songs are priced in Singapore dollars and transactions can be conveniently made with credit cards. Users can also discover and download new songs via 7digital's recommendation feature. In addition to support for BlackBerry devices, the 7digital Music Store app is also available for Android devices and is coming soon to the iOS platform. More importantly, the app is able to sync your music downloads to the cloud, allowing you to access them on the go via most platforms such as notebooks, desktops, smartphones and tablets.
With the two powerhouses understanding the market and consumers' needs better this time round, I feel that there is a higher possibility of localized digital music stores taking off in Singapore. One question remains as to how each service provider is able to sustain its service and continue to innovate to attract consumers over the long term. Market competition is increasing; one day you are the leader, the next day someone else surpasses you. While the past provides some lessons and guidance for the present, nobody can predict how the future will turn out to be.
Sidney Wong / Former Senior Tech Writer
A strong passion for mobile phones and tablets, Sidney is always on the look out for the latest and the best technology has to offer. His personal belief - you do not need to get the best as long as you get something that suits you.