Since Apple launched the App Store for iPhone OS 2.0, I’ve been keeping my eyes out for what might be the next killer app for the iPhone. I’ve often thought the iPhone would be a game-changer in the mobile environment, allowing people to think of their phones in a new way. These mobile devices are no longer simply a phone with added-on Internet access, but a complete communications and personal computer system. With games and other non-communication-oriented apps the iPhone has achieved much towards this end, but there’s one additional category that has the potential to be a game changer in an unexpected way: internet radio.
The Pandora and AOL Radio apps are designed to allow you to stream radio to your iPhone or iPod Touch. The introduction of fast 3G Internet access on the iPhone represents a significant threat to satellite radio and, to a lesser extent, terrestrial radio. Consider the implications. A user has an iPhone that’s the same size as an iPod (or a Sirius Stiletto) that can stream radio while in the car, walking down the street, or inside a building. The iPhone can hop onto WiFi networks (same with the iPod Touch) or use 3G. Even Edge connectivity allows for decent streaming. All that adds up to great wireless access – as good as, or better than, satellite technology, since 3G and Edge connections work indoors whereas satellite doesn’t.
Accessibility aside, the real advantage is the phenomenal flexibility streaming radio provides. Take Pandora for example. It’s a streaming radio program for the iPhone that creates a customized radio station matched exactly to your tastes. But even the simple ability to skip over songs you don’t like, a basic feature of Pandora, is inherently absent from any pre-programmed content station. Such a simple feature goes a long way to improving your listening experience, and it’s almost embarrassing in the age of TiVo to not be able to skip over content you don’t find interesting.
With greater accessibility and significantly greater flexibility, streaming Internet radio will become one of the biggest threats to satellite radio over the next few years and will become a killer app for the iPhone. Cell technology is getting better at providing high-speed Internet access, and already there are a number of very good streaming services that match listener’s tastes to music. As the iPhone becomes increasingly popular among consumers and access speeds increase, satellite will suffer. Satellite’s only hope to stay competitive is to offer enough exclusive content that listeners won’t be able to part ways with satellite radio without missing their favorite programs, but even that strategy is tenuous at best – it will only be so long before the content creators themselves decide to head for the greener pastures that Internet streaming radio provides.