The solution often seems simple, ban them. That would mean, however, banning all USB flash devices and requiring employees to leave their personal phones, PDA’s and MP3 players at the office door. This is clearly not only unworkable but liable to stress employee/employer relations to snapping point.
This Christmas MP3 players were the hottest and most popular present. The danger is that this New Year all the happy recipients are desperate to use them and will very quickly find out how excellent they are not just for storing music for also for storing lots and lots of data. Even the £20 MP3 players can store 256MB of data. At the top end of the market, digital jukeboxes with storage of 20GB start at under £150 while a 60GB Apple iPod Video player can be had for just £300. That is the same storage capacity as a lot of corporate notebooks.
What makes this market even more dangerous is the number of devices that IDC estimates will have been sold by the end of 2005. European sales of devices with a capacity of less than 4MB will top 20m while the larger MP3 jukeboxes and video players will exceed 5m devices.
These numbers are more than twice the sales for 2004 and while the sales growth will slow during 2006, higher capacities and the introduction of large scale storage in devices such as Smartphones will continue to push the market forward.
While these devices are aimed at a consumer market, there has already been an increase in their use within the corporate environment and this is set to increase as more people recognise that they are ideal for listening to corporate presentations on the move. Others might use them to listen to audio books or even watch training courses. In meetings, the MP3 player has already replaced the mini tape recorder due to battery life, capacity, ease of file storage/sharing and cost.
Consumers want to use these devices on their corporate networks today to download content. While there are figures showing that some of this content is illegal, there has been a big move towards legal content. One of the drivers of this has been the strengthening of the audio book market. Whereas, just a few years ago it was novels or self-help books that dominated the audio space, now there is a huge array of general business books on the market. This market is also being targeted by educational publishers who are moving their existing content into a new market. For these publishers, getting users to play “skills enhancement” books on MP3 players is as much a B2B as a B2C play.
Then there is the big emerging market of the year – Podcasting. In the same way that the DVD recorder and Sky+ box have revolutionised the way we handle the time-shifted world of television, Podcasting is doing the same for audio and it seems everyone is doing it. In the UK, the most popular Podcast is the BBC Radio 1 breakfast show. Unsurprisingly, it is most often downloaded during the day, probably by people who missed it while travelling into work.
It is not just audio that is driving the Podcasting market. The BBC and several other channels have committed to putting their TV programs out via broadband. They are also allowing them to be downloaded from websites. As this requires a reasonable bandwidth to get several programs, it is not unreasonable to expect that this will often be done at work.