Cricket MUVE: Game Changer or Late To The Game

In late December, Cricket Wireless announced a new music streaming service, Muve.  In essence, you buy the phone, the Samsung Suede, and pay a flat fee of $55 for playing an unlimited amount of music.

Now before I go any further, allow me to clear the air a bit. Cricket Wireless is formally a client of mine and I heard about this service a little over a year ago, when the brand was in the planning stages, so nothing here is confidential and everything is my own opinion. I confess, I’ve been patiently waiting to be able to talk about this when I first heard about the concept.  Now that it’s officially announced, I can.

When I first heard about the concept, I thought this could be a game changer.  However, that was before services like MOG and Rdio entered the game.  In addition to these, let’s not forget the much anticipated Spotify, the now profitable Pandora , and the older service Rhapsody (that somehow has continued to survive).

More On Streaming Music Services

The idea of offering an all-in-one service was, I believe, first suggested by Dave Kusek and Gerd Leonhard in the book, The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution.  It was offered as a solution to curtail the ever-rising illiegal downloading.  There are several arguments regarding why people download illegally, but this trend can absolutely be blamed by Napster.. the first version.  (No I’m not rehashing that discussion.)

I have long argued about that music is the most personal product a person buys because it isn’t tangible.  It isn’t bubble gum that you can see sitting on a shelf.  And even when you do buy a CD, unless you’ve heard the music before, you really don’t know what you’re getting.  How many times have you ever bought an album you thought would rock and then turns out to be a dud? Yeah, I thought so.  I do believe this is one reason why people illegally download music.

Rdio and MOG offer amazing services for the 10 bucks a month. Last I checked on Amazon, that’s the average cost to download a top selling album. These services offer something far more compelling – the monthly fee includes all-you-can-listen via computer AND mobile device.  For the record, as a member of the MOG Music Network, I get the MOG service at no cost and, believe me, I use it daily. It’s awesome!  Based on some testing here and there, Rdio appears to function similarly.  But since I get MOG at no cost, I have no reason to subscribe to Rdio.

The really killer part about MOG and Rdio is the ability to download to your phone with the mobile apps.  As far as I can tell, each service offers an app for Android and iPhone.  You can listen to the music, as long as you are a subscriber.  So you can’t keep the music, but for 10 bucks a month you can tap into a database of millions of songs from artists that, I promise, you’ve never heard of. Come across something new and interesting, you can instantly take a listen.  I can’t speak for the Rdio app, but the MOG mobile app provides some great “similar artist” recommendations.

One thing to know about the databases for Rdio and MOG, although they are extensive they are not complete.  Availability of certain artists and/or albums may not be included.  For example, on MOG, no albums by Tool are available. Testament, one of my favorite artists, only have some albums available, but not the early ones such as The New Order and Practice What You Preach.  On the other hand, the entire Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, and more are available.  Each service is also pretty good at offering new music releases.

Cricket’s Muve

Without physically testing the new Cricket Muve, I’m basing my opinions about the device based on a few articles by PC MAG and Engadget. Of course, some aspects of the device don’t require holding it my hand.  For example, a liability of the device is that it’s not an Android-powered device.  Granted, you have to launch the service and see how it catches on, but I think it would be easier to catch on if the phone was…well.. a smartphone.   That said, the device does include some social networking capabilities.  I’m sure that means Facebook and Twitter access only.  I doubt there are other applications available, but I can’t say for sure.

The service allows any user to download a song and listen to it directly from the phone.  This is not an MP3 service where you keep the songs after you download.  As long as you have the phone and pay for the service, you “own” the songs. I’m sure they are encoded in such a way that makes the download accessible only by the phone’s software.  (As I previously mentioned, MOG and Rdio do the same thing.)  Shazam, a song recognition app, is a pretty sweet inclusion on the phone.  Users can use the device and application to hear a song and identify it, then turnaround and search the music service database to listen to it. Finally, you can make any song available through the service into a ringtone by using its built-in editor to select the section from song you wish to use.

The biggest question of ’em all: Who is most likely to buy the device/service for it to succeed?

Cricket’s audience is mostly minorities, unless that dramatically changed in the past 8 months. Minorities simply rely and use cellphones differently than other groups.  In a recent article by USA Today, the article reported:

“Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 46% of blacks use their phones to access the Internet, compared with 33% of whites, according to a July 2010 Pew poll. Forty-seven percent of Latinos and 41% of blacks use their phones for e-mail, compared with 30% of whites. The figures for using social media like Facebook via phone were 36% for Latinos, 33% for blacks and 19% for whites.”

Based on this information, it makes perfect sense that Cricket would offer a device that allows music lovers an a la carte service baked into their phone service.  This phone isn’t designed for folks who want a smartphone, obviously, but it is for people who have a steep passion for music, don’t need a fancy mobile device, and desire access to a massive catalog.

The advantage Cricket has over MOG and Rdio is brand recognition in key markets.  However, the disadvantage of the service is that you can only access through the phone, something that makes MOG and Rdio more compelling.  I can only speculate what Cricket is planning next, but if people managing the brand are smart… a mobile and web app are next in line.

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