Apple may be unwise to assume consumers want an iPod that is also a mobile phone, new research warns.

The newly published Entertainment Media Research annual Digital Music Survey of 3,000 UK shoppers was conducted in July 2006.

Its results claim that 46 per cent of the sample group would instead choose a phone that plays music and media, while just 21 per cent would opt for a music player with phone featured added.

Admitting that the difference between the two categories is largely "semantic", the report notes that the attitude shows mobile phone manufacturers have an initial head-start in the market. The report also observes that a third of consumers would never want a combined device.

Mobile music fails traction test

Despite this, the music industry holy grail of mobile network music services - increasingly seen as the labels' hope of a true competitor to Apple iTunes hegemony - also faces a challenge.

The proportion of consumers who claim to be interested in using mobile music services has climbed only 4 per cent in the last year, from 21 per cent to just 25 per cent of those spoken to. This slump is "despite the industry's significant investment in raising consumer awareness".

The survey team notes that: "Much more needs to be done to persuade consumers of the benefits of mobile downloading," warning of "indications of a niche market that is in danger of stalling, having successfully attracted early adopters but failed so far to create mass interest."

Humans like to share music

Additional statistics raised within the research may be of interest: 67 per cent of users share music with friends (15 per cent share "a lot of it"). 15 per cent of the general group, 17 per cent of legal dowloaders and 24 per cent of illegal downloaders have swapped hard disks or iPods to share music. Many users share sounds through IM software, and one in three create compilation CDs for friends.

CDs are seen as "worth more than digital downloads" by 72 per cent of the group, though legal downloaders value CDs slightly less highly.

CD sales have also been impacted by digital music. 13 per cent of downloaders claim to have stopped or almost stopped buying CDs as a result of their downloading activity with a further 30 per cent claiming to buy fewer CDs . Interestingly, 13 per cent claim to buy more CDs as a result of downloading.

The iPod ownership demographic is shifting, too, with more women buying them than before - 48 per cent of owners are now female, up from 44 per cent in 2005. 19 per cent of those who don't own an MP3 player plan to buy one in the next six months.

Reliable technology required

The report predicts continued growth in the market for iPods and other MP3 players, but warns that consumers are becoming disenchanted at the reliability of these machines. "Significant proportions (of the survey group) report terminal failures and faults," the report warns.

Apple's biggest bugbear remains quality control. According to the report, "iPod owners are twice as likely to have required a repair to their player than owners of other brands (but potentially their iPods are older)."

It finds that 9 per cent of MP3 owners have had to repair their device because it stops working, but this rises to 12 per cent of iPod owners. 23 per cent of owners have had to replace their player because it stops working properly.

Despite Apple's 40 per cent market share (according to the survey), just 31 per cent see its iPod as "very reliable".

However, behind those figures lurks a little prejudice. Apple's sternest critics appear to be music player owners who don't own an iPod. 48 per cent of iPod users see the device as very reliable, while just 22 per cent of owners of non-iPods see it that way. And only 18 per cent of the sample group doesn't know enough about iPods to have an opinion.

There is good news in the report for Apple. The report reveals that 29 per cent of users "really do not care" that iTunes purchases can only play on iPods.