Technology Blossoms In 2005

From left to right: Sony's Walkman Bean MP3 player; the Apple iPod; and the Rio Carbon MP3 music player.
CBS/Sony Electronics/AP
2005, as it turns out, was a pretty good year for technology. There were few, if any, unpredictable breakthroughs but there was at least one big winner. Apple Computer continued to hit it big with its iPod music player and its iTunes music download service.

Apple started the year by announcing the tiny iPod shuffle in January and ended the year with two new iPods: the nano, that replaced the iPod mini, and the newest iPod that features a 2.5 inch color screen and the ability to display video.

Many companies, including Samsung, Sony, iRiver and Creative came up with their own excellent digital media players but none, so far, were able to grab significant market share from Apple.

Technology Consultant Larry Magid looks back at 2005 and ahead at 2006 with veteran Silicon Valley analyst Tim Bajarin

In addition to selling lots of music players, Apple also led the way with the legal downloading of digital music. Its iTunes music service is estimated to account for more than 80 percent of legal music downloads despite competition from Real Networks, Napster, Yahoo and, of course, Microsoft. Still, some competitors came up with offerings that could make some Apple owners a bit green with envy.

In February, Napster announced that it will "rent" music for a monthly fee (starting at about $10 a month) with the ability to play them on compatible MP3 players. Yahoo Music launched a similar service as did Real Network's Rhapsody. I've been enjoying my test of Rhapsody's service that allows both PC and Mac users to listen to unlimited music via the Web or download to PCs and portable players.

My son, who has an iPod, is jealous of my Dell DJ music player because it lets me listen to Rhapsody songs as long as I continue to be a subscriber. Rhapsody, like Napster, charges $10 a month for its PC service and $14.95 for the ability to play the music on compatible digital portable players. Yahoo has a less expensive yet nearly identical service for only $5 for PC users and $11.99 a month if you want to listen on the go.

Downloads are beginning to have a noticeable impact on the music industry's bottom line. 2005 saw a 7 percent decline in CD album sales from 650.8 million (from January 1st to December 25, 2004) to 602.2 million for the same period this year. There was 148 percent increase in legal downloads from 134.2 million in 2004 to 332.7 million in 2005.

2005 was definitely the year of the podcast. Apple enabled iPod users to listen to podcasts on the go this summer but even before that, thousands of citizen broadcasters around the world started uploading their own audio programs for people to download and hear on their computers and portable devices.

By mid-year the big media companies caught on and just about all major broadcasters, including CBS News, now offer podcasting. Yours truly is no exception. Thanks to podcasting, instead of just 15 to 20 second sound bytes on network radio, I also get to create programs that go on for several minutes. But, you don't have to work for a big media company to be a podcaster. Tens of thousands of people now have a voice on the Internet's virtual airwaves thanks to podcasting.