Music phones achieving critical mass

Watch out Apple, music phones are catching on fast - that's the message from a survey last week which pegs the UK at the top of the music phone league.

Some 40 per cent of UK mobile users have music phones, putting them clearly ahead of Germany (34 per cent), Italy (32 per cent), Spain (29 per cent) and France (23 per cent). The USA comes in with a tech-laggard 17 per cent, although the appetite for music phones there has grown 385 per cent in the last year. This suggests the Apple iPhone could do very well when it's launched Stateside in June.

However this is a problem with those big European figures. And that problem's revealed when we look at how people are actually getting music on to their phones.

According to the M: Metrics survey 12.5 per cent of UK users download music from their PCs to their phones and 2.5 per cent directly download music to their mobiles by using mobile music stores like those from Three. That's just 15 per cent of users. M: Metrics estimates that 28 per cent of people are actively using their phones for listening to music, which suggests that the other 13 per cent are just listening to the radio, or swapping music with friends. Not surprisingly the highest usage statistics come from owners of

Walkman phones from Sony Ericsson where music usage can rise to 67 per cent.

'phones in, music out?

However these figures tend to suggest that over 70 per cent of people aren't listening to music at all on their mobiles, which hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement for the format.

Indeed it's more like a self-fulfilling prophesy. Music playback is fast becoming a standard feature of many mobiles, which means that you're increasingly likely to pick up a music phone when you come to sign up for a contract or to upgrade to a new model. However just because your phone has a feature, it doesn't necessarily follow that you'll use it - as looks the case here.

One of the key reasons for that could be that's its still difficult to get music on your phone in the first place. Not everyone wants to pay £2.49 a pop for a downloadable music video or 99p for a song from a mobile music store, and getting the songs on your phone from a PC is fraught with complications too.

There's also the question of headphones. Most earbuds provided with music phones are of questionable sound quality and because many use proprietary connections, it's not easy to upgrade the experience using a standard pair of headphones. Having said all that, let's look at the UK's top-selling mobile music phones:

Top ten UK music phones

  1. Sony Ericsson W850i - 67% of owners using it for music downloads
  2. Sony Ericsson W810i - 59%
  3. Sony Ericsson W800i - 52%
  4. Nokia N80 - 51%
  5. Nokia N73 - 48%
  6. Sony Ericsson K800i - 46%
  7. Sony Ericsson W300i - 45%
  8. LG KG800 Chocolate - 42%
  9. Samsung E900 - 38%
  10. Sony Ericsson K750i - 35%

However, what is clear is that music phones are definitely here to stay, chiefly because they give you a choice about how and where you listen to your favourite tunes.

"Mobile phones as music players are a winning proposition," Andreas Piani, an analyst, at M:Metrics told

"There is a very good chance that listening to music on your mobile will go truly mass market - possibly the first service to do so since text messaging."

And here the UK scores again. It has the highest percentage of text message users - with 86 per cent of phone subscribers using the function.