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SanDisk & Big Four Labels Unveil microSD 'slotMusic'

Gordon Kelly


SanDisk & Big Four Labels Unveil microSD 'slotMusic'

Haven't we been here before?

Today Samsung takeover target and flash memory giant SanDisk has announced 'slotMusic': a new physical music format where 320kbps encoded, DRM-free music will be sold on 1GB microSD cards. The seemingly antiquated plan also has the backing of all four major record labels (EMI, Sony BMG, Warner Music and Universal) so widespread support is expected but will anyone be convinced?

The theory is simple: mobile phones (Sony Ericsson models and the Apple iPhone apart) are united in their adoption of the microSD format so users will simply be able to pop down to their local store, buy a slotMusic album and insert it into their handsets. Notably, SanDisk's Sansa Fuze and View MP3 players also carry microSD expansion slots. Furthermore, in an effort to convince end users, slotMusic cards will include lyrics, album art, liner notes, videos and "other creative content that an artist may choose".

Of course the problem with all this is we have seen something virtually identical try and fail before. TrustedFlash (not a TR staff members streaker contest) was announced back in September 2005 and proposed - ready for this - DRM-protected albums and video content sold on microSD cards in a plan thought up by, yep, SanDisk.

So DRM apart - is a world ever more dominated by microSD mobile phones and devices likely to see slotMusic succeed where TrustedFlash failed? I sense not, because during this time online music downloads have arguably been accelerating even faster than the acceptance of microSD and many devices can now simply download music over the air. Besides, while the lack of DRM is nice, it doesn't negate the need to carry packs of little - eminently losable - microSD cards around with you which is essentially the CD/Minidisc era, shrunk.

Lastly, while the 320Kbps bitrate is excellent it misses the obvious inclusion of lossless music. After all, for those who do still buy CDs a primary reason is being able to rip at an ultra high bitrate not available for download. 7Digitial recently began offering 320Kbps music from the 'Big Four' labels so will liner notes and unspecified "creative content" be enough to justify repeated trips to the shops?

The nostalgic part of me wants to say yes, but the realist says an emphatic no. Either way, an initial US launch will see slotMusic slot hit numerous stores across the country including heavyweights Best Buy and Wal-Mart. A European release will soon follow - whether we like it or not...


Press Release

Ian Yates

September 22, 2008, 5:35 pm

CDs have survived because (apart from industry pressure), they are easily stored but also pretty difficult to lose - a nice balance.

This microSD cards are tiny and probably won't even be able to fit the name of the artist/album on them to distinguish them... I can't see it taking off.


September 22, 2008, 6:46 pm

RE: artist and album name, you could use a data matrix to encode them - there's a LOT of mobile programs out there that allow you to use a mobile phone camera to decode them... the most recent Nokia mobs have the program installed straight from the box!

1GB is plenty of space to fit both a FLAC *and* MP3 320kbps full length album (former for quality desktop playback, latter for playing on handsets/iPods), plus room for .jpg cover art and text files etc!


September 22, 2008, 6:55 pm

@ChaosDefinesOrder - that's my point re lossless, a missed opportunity.


September 22, 2008, 7:53 pm

Honestly, I have to wonder - how did this idea make it out of the door at SanDisk? I mean, they're obviously smart people, but this seems completely doomed to fail. Anyone comfortable with technology enough to make the jump from CD to microSD is also going to be comfortable with downloading, and I know which one I'd choose. Those who aren't, will just stick with CD. Sony tried with MiniDisc and had incredibly marginal with success, and it only had CD and cassette to compete with. Replace cassette with downloading, and lose the might of Sony's marketing department, and, well, to my eyes what you've got is a complete failure.


September 22, 2008, 11:41 pm

No, Just no. I couldn't stand carrying around CD's with me on a regular basis because simply put it's completely pointless carrying around 20 CD's when you can carry around 200 in your pocket cheaply. Making them physical media 1/10 the size doesn't change that, I don't want to carry around lots of little bits of physical media when an mp3 player does me just fine.

Instead of pouring money into this, what about being able to buy lossless albums off sites like 7 digital? It's a better idea then this at least.


September 23, 2008, 3:12 am

How is it that projects like this get signed off? Has anyone of the 'Big Four' heard of market research? Presumably SanDisk are in this because they will be paid to manufacture the 'slotMusic' format so no real risk for them. The labels will pick up the cost of promotion, distribution etc... If I were the CEO of troubled EMI I would have the whole division responsible for this idea on gardening leave tomorrow morning.


September 29, 2008, 4:15 am

Yep, i can just see people fumbling for whichever album they want to play next, dropping the back cover of their phone/mp3 player which they had to remove to switch cards. This combined with squinting to read the identifying marks on the tiny cards, which will need to be carried separately. Of course, these people won't mind not being able to enjoy the benefits of playing a random selection, or a playlist of the albums that aren't currently plugged into their player. Just the kind of aggravation one would seek on a crowded train!

One of the great things about MP3 players is their ability to reproduce decent quality music from compressed files. What is the point of playing a lossless audio album in a humble portable player? I would have thought that a lossless recording would only really be necessary on a system capable of revealing such detail, like a proper high end audio system. To hear such detail would require the system to be situated in a proper listening environment. A quiet place where the detail and refinement can be appreciated, not a noisy train! Maybe these clever guys know stuff we don't! Any comments appreciated.

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