Wow! Mobile Music Startup

Omnifone, a UK firm that I’ve never heard of, launched a really interesting product a few hours ago. There isn’t much up about it in the US (yet), but it seems like the company has come out of nowhere to announce a HUGE deal with many of, if not all, the music companies. Basically, their MusicStation software allows users to access music via their cellphone using a subscription service. According to a Reuters report I saw in the Mail and Guardian, “The catalogue is localised per country and averages 1,2-million available tracks.” That is a fair-sized catalogue of music and may make the service fly.

What interests me, however, is the fact that the service will be debuting in South Africa and Norway. I can understand Norway, given the strength of cellular/mobile technology in Scandinavia, but it will be very interesting to see how the service flies in the South African market. According to the company’s press release, it will have access to 690 million handsets through its partners, with most of those handsets capable of running their software. Access won’t reach all of those users instantaneously, but it will be interesting to see how the company deals with the computational demands of running a service that large and complex, especially without a (public) background in the field.

It was very interesting to listen to the company’s demo using a Motorola Ming. And I say “listen” because the narrator’s voice sounds very South African. It’s not an accent I’ve heard in foreign marketing, mainly because it’s not that easy to place (at least in the US). It might also reflect the mainly European market’s recognition of the accent, but I really have no clue.

My last comment on the service is that it looks a LOT like the interface of the Apple iPod. The software is being touted on a number of blogs as a “rival” to Apple’s iTunes/iPod/iPhone offerings. One thing it has in its favour is the similarity of the interface. If it looks anything like the demo on the website, your average user isn’t going to know the difference for the most part. That will be a big help in getting people to use the service: it will be straightforward and simple. And that is huge when you are selling something that has to work on a cell phone.

It’s a pity that it won’t be available in the US in the immediate future either. It looks like it’s going to beat the iPhone to the European market, but it won’t be getting a foothold in the US quite as early. Still, they do seem to have a large audience in the bag already, an audience that wants to play music on their cell phone. (And not quite the audience that wants to organise their lives using an iPhone.)

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