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slotMusic - Can This be for Real?

written by: Lamar Stonecypher•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 1/29/2012

First there were records. Then came 8-track tapes and cassettes. Compact discs arrived in 1982 and are with us yet. Memory manufacturer SanDisk wants to make the next music media standard even smaller - on an SD card, of course. Will this create a new marketing niche or be a monumental miss?

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    Have you ever read about a new product and thought it was doomed from the get-go?

    The next thought is often, “What were they thinking?"

    Well, that’s exactly my reaction upon learning that SanDisk is planning to introduce music albums on micro-SD cards to be sold in record departments and airport kiosks for the price of a CD album.

    It’s called “slotMusic."

    There are so many things wrong with this idea that it’s hard to know where to start.

    First of all, micro-SD cards are thumbnail-sized devices. They are troublesome to handle, hard to insert, and tricky to eject. They are a pain to use on phones that have external slots, usually under some hard rubber cover that’s difficult to remove and soon fails completely after a couple of uses, or, even worse, under the battery under the battery cover . . . or under the SIM card under the battery under the battery cover.

    Next, album sales are in the long, slow process of tanking. Why buy an album when you can pick and choose the songs you actually want at iTunes and Amazon and other online services?

    Besides, those that have devices that can use micro-SD cards are probably already using them for extended storage. The SanDisk card is 1 GB. It can contain the music, art work, and liner notes. Want to pull your 2 or 4 GB storage card out that you have carefully customized and put a slotMusic card in just to play some music by a single artist or group?

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    What paradigm shift? Moldy big content is still thinking about selling albums rather than, well, an actual album- you know those things made of pressed vinyl where a needle rides in a groove, which are coming back. Most of us with portable devices have gotten out of the habit of buying albums. Why purchase an album with a song or two you like when you can get your own inconvenient micro-SD card and fill it with the individual tracks that you personally love?

    Many phones use the SD card as “internal storage," installing not just music and video there, but actual programs, too. On my Windows Mobile Smartphone, I make it a standard practice to install ALL programs to the card in order to preserve precious internal memory.

    What are the chances of something thumbnail-sized actually staying attached to a human when it’s not in the device? Sometimes I think that as I get older, I spend more time looking for things than using them, but it helps if the things I need to find are big enough to stumble over. To put this in perspective, a micro-SD card can be covered up by an average cat’s foot. I doubt that I would be disciplined enough to put up with keeping up with something so tiny.

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    SanDisk includes a “USB dongle" to plug the slotMusic card into your computer. That’s an idea. The standard practice is to provide an SD-adapter with a mini- or micro-SD card that allows it to be “read" in the SD-slot included in many laptop and desktop computers. Why bother when anybody can plug a slotMusic card into any available USB slot? I wonder what percentage of the market has a device that uses a SD card and does not have a built-in reader or external reader for their PC by now.

    SD cards, and other types of flash memory, by the way, are doomed to die from day one. They have only a limited number of read-write cycles in them. Various schemes, like load averaging, try to extend the useful life of flash memory, but it’s not eternal. A SD card is a less endurable media than a CD. From the industry that brought us 8-track tapes, the queen of unreliability, I guess that’s not too surprising.

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    Putting the music in MP3 format on the cards is a sop. Wow! You can do anything you want to with the music and use whatever space is left over for your own purposes.What are the chances that music isn’t watermarked, probably to the serial number of the SD card?What are the chances that they’ll try to make sure that less than 3 MB are available? (That’s purely a guess, by the way.)

    I went looking for portable music players with micro-SD slots, and I found the SanDisk Sansa and a lot of phones. There were some lesser known brands like the (attractively priced) Centon, but in each case, including the Sansa,the slot is being used for storage, not for convenient, rapid access.

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    I’ve been using, writing about, and supporting Palm OS and Windows Mobile devices for years. I have a formidable pile of old devices that I’ve been able to keep. My experience with SD card devices goes back to the point where, rather than a wise business decision, it was considered a risky move to include such a slot on a handheld. Who, we wondered, would be able to afford the media?

    Make it cheap enough and they shall come.

    I may be wrong, but I think users will avoid buying music on micro-SD media sort of like the way they’d avoid a tick. Unfortunately for moldy old big content and SanDisk, we have other needs for the micro-SD card slots on our devices, and media so small my cat can bat it into a forgotten corner is not for me.

    Did I mention that exchanging micro-SD cards on a portable device is a pain?

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