The Future of Music Technology

Ten years ago, it was nuts to think you’d have your entire music collection in your pocket.  Today, no biggie.  So what’s coming in the next decade?  Plenty.  The future of music technology is all about accessibility – easier access to both consuming, and creating, the music you want to hear.   It starts with a massive ramp-up in mobile networks, letting people suck down music (and video) at lightning fast speeds.  Verizon Wireless and AT&T have just started deploying Long Term Evolution or LTE networks, capable of sucking down as much as 50 megabits per second.   And Sprint is following with WiMAX networks, for around 10 megabits per second.   

Wireless speeds are accelerating just as more and more electronics – from televisions to car stereos – are connecting online.  Technology research firm Strategy Analytics predicts Internet-connected TVs in the US to boom from the less than 5 million today to a whopping 107 million by 2014.  Internet service providers and cable companies are already busy preparing for the great uploading.  Comcast has an internal project called Project Infinity, aimed putting massive catalogs of music and videos on-demand. Cable and wireless providers are expected to bundle music subscription costs into bills, making subscribing to music services more like how we know think of cable TV.  Yes, this means your music player is becoming extinct, especially when you’re toting your terabyte phone. 

Streaming music subscriptions services like Spotify will continue to grow, letting you listen to millions of songs from an online cloud.  But for those times when you’re not able to get online, you’re still going to want to store songs on your phone.  And, by the end of the decade, you’ll be able to hold 20 million of them in the palm of your hand.   Mobile devices are projected to hit 50 gigabytes of storage by 2020, with top shelf phones supporting as much as one terabyte.  The bigger challenge will be engineering a new generation of batteries to keep you listening. 

Today, listening to your iPod requires your eyes and hands.  But over the next decade, portable music devices will evolve to their more sensible home:  your ears.  Controlled by voice commands, all the necessary components could be housed on a chip the size of a pin – or an earring.  Say the song you want to hear, and the music plays, discretely resonating the bone near your inner ear.

It’s also getting easier to figure out a song title you don’t know.  You can hold up your phone and use Shazam, a (killer) app that identifies songs by audio fingerprints, or, if you know a few words, punch the lyrics into a search.  Now the ultimate dream of searching by humming is coming true.  Computer scientists at Northwestern University are building TuneBot, an online service that matches a riff you sing against a database of others.  Tone-deaf fans don’t need to sweat, because the TuneBot software analyzes the peaks and valleys of a pitch interval rather than the exactness.  Bryan Pardo, the project’s engineering lead, expects that TuneBot database to grow from the current few thousand to millions by 2015 – as long as music labels license their songs.

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