Update 2: Many in the media including outlets such as the Associated Press have since built on our coverage. While Verizon has chosen to ignore our direct requests for follow-ups, they have stated to other members of the media that future updates will restore MP3 support. They also state that customers will now be informed at the time the VCast music service is installed onto their devices that the phone will lose MP3 support. Verizon did not state either new development at any time before or after releasing this update until today.
Update: Several people are sending in a Verizon claim that MP3s are supported. However, you need to read the statement carefully. The statement says that MP3s are supported provided you use Windows Media Player 10. What is actually happening is WMP10 is converting the MP3s to WMA, much like WMA files are converted to MP3 when sent to the iPod via iTunes. However, unlike the iPod and iTunes, there is no such solution for VCast Music phones on Mac or Linux.
In addition, viewers are also sending in Verizon press releases which promote the Samsung SCH-A950 and LG VX-8100 as having built-in MP3 player support via the memory card. Removing this feature via software update can easily be considered false advertising.
While everyone has been covering the new VCast music service we reported on months ago, we have been busy investigating some of the things Verizon may be brushing under the rug. The VCast Music Store is an extension of Microsoft’s PlayForSure system. VCast Music phones connect to Windows Media Player 10, and transfer DRM music as well as a customer’s existing music library. Purchased music is $1/song (when purchased on the PC and sent to the phone), or, can be purchased on the handset and later transferred back to the PC for $2/song. However, the “dirty little secret” is that MP3 support is gone from these devices, VCast Music phones will not play MP3 files, regardless if in memory or on a memory card.
Verizon boasts that the LG VX-8100 can be updated to support the VCast music store. However, they may be sued for doing it. Adding the VCast Music Store to the VX-8100 completely disables the ability to play MP3s. Any VX-8100 running firmware V05 or lower will play MP3s, any running higher than that will not. This is a concern for Mac and Linux users who do not have access to Windows Media Player 10.
You may ask why this was done? As far as we can analyze, Microsoft made an agreement to engineer VCast Music phones as WMA-only devices, in order to lock out iTunes and other competition from most interaction with the device that does not involve burning, ripping, and integrating into Windows Media Player. This type of monopolist policy is something that iTunes has avoided, but Windows Media Player embraces.
It appears Verizon knows internally that this is a liability. In a leaked internal memo from Verizon’s corporate intranet, Verizon states that customers that want MP3 support should be issued a refurbished VX-8100 with V04 firmware. However, the average consumer is to not be informed that there is a difference between what VX-8100s support formats, and customers are encouraged without prior warning that MP3 support will be lost with the V06 update. Presumably a Mac or Linux customer could be downgraded to V04 firmware.
In short, the impact of the “VCast Music Dirty Little Secret” may or may not impact Verizon legally, however, it will cause consumer confusion, and Microsoft and Verizon’s primary answer is to purchase a Windows Media Player 10 PC and “migrate” to it so your phone will work with your music.