By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Motorola and Ericsson announced technology plans that will strengthen the position of cellphones as headphone MP3 players.
Here at the 3GSM World Congress trade show, Ericsson announced plans to host a Napster Mobile-branded download service for carriers and that U.S. carrier SunCom Wireless would offer the service to subscribers in the first half.
Like similar services available through Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless, Napster Mobile will be a dual-download service that lets consumers download songs over the cellular airwaves directly to their handsets while a duplicate track is made available to the user's home PC. Unlike those carriers' services, however, Napster Mobile will be accessible from a potentially broader number of phones as long as they have WAP/XHTML Web browsers or are capable of downloading a J2ME (Java) application over the air. Availability as a BREW application (used on Verizon handsets) is planned if there is demand, the company said.
For its part, Motorola announced plans in the second half to offer cellphones that play protected WMA music files transferred from a PC. In 2007, the company will offer cellphones that support over-the-air downloads of protected music in the more compressed Windows Media Pro format, which Verizon Wireless already uses to deliver songs over the air to select cellphones.
Two current Motorola music phones play back Apple's Fairplay-protected AAC music format. They are the Motorola ROKR and SLVR L7, available in the United States only through Cingular. These phones don't download music over the air but store music transferred from PCs that was downloaded from Apple's iTunes site.
Here are key details of the companies' announcements:
Ericsson: The infrastructure company is teaming up with Napster to host, manage and maintain the Napster Mobile service, which will enable over-the-air downloads of ringtones, full-length songs and artist images from Napster's catalog, which comprises more than 2 million songs, said Erik Oldmark, Ericsson's strategies and marketing VP for global services. The dual-download service will deliver songs in the aacPlus format protected by the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) 1.0 DRM, Napster president Brad Duea said. PC downloads will be protected in the WMA format.
Songs can be downloaded to Java-equipped CDMA and GSM phones after they download a Napster J2ME (Java) application. Songs can also be downloaded to phones with WAP/XHTML browsers, Duea said.
Sony Ericsson already offers phones, including Walkman-branded phones capable of playing back the downloads, Oldmark said. Other Java-equipped phones supporting the service include the Nokia 6680 and the brand's three N series models.
Napster Mobile will extend its platform to BREW-equipped phones and Symbian OS phones if demand warrants, Napster said.
Not at first but “in the roadmap,” Oldmark told TWICE, is a mobile version of the Napster To Go subscription-download service. It would enable users to download as many songs as they want to the PC or to the phone and listen for as long as they pay a monthly subscription fee.
In the interim, any phone with Windows Media Player 10 installed would be able to play back subscription downloads transferred from a PC, said Duea.
Berwyn, Pa.-based SunCom Wireless will go live with the service in the first half in its markets, which comprises all or parts of six Southeast states with 13.6 million potential subscribers. Ericsson, Napster and SunCom will share revenues from the service.
Through SunCom and other carriers, subscribers will be able to listen to 30-second previews of a song on a phone before deciding to download it. When the songs are downloaded to the PC, consumers will use Napster software to listen to the song, create playlists, and transfer the song to other portable devices.
SunCom would become the third U.S. carrier to offer an over-the-air download service following Sprint Nextel's late-2005 launch and Verizon's January 2006 launch.
Motorola: The company will adopt Microsoft's WMA and WMA Pro codecs and rights-management technology “on a number of Motorola's music handsets,” the company said without specifying the countries that would launch them. In the second half “on multiple handsets worldwide,” the company will incorporate WMA playback of authorized downloads transferred from a PC. Support for over-the-air delivery directly from the download site to the handset in WMA Pro format “is expected to follow suit in 2007,” the company said.
The phones would also be the first announced to date to be compatible with PC-based WMA subscription-download services such as Napster To Go because the phones will use the WMA 10 player, a spokesperson said.
To date, Verizon Wireless offers three phones that, like the Motorola phones, play back protected WMA and WMA Pro downloads, but those phones do not support PC-based subscription download services, Verizon confirmed. The three phones are the Samsung 950, LG VX 8100 and Verizon's 8945, she said.
Motorola's handsets, like the Verizon models, will incorporate Microsoft's Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), which enables them to be automatically recognized by a PC's Windows Media Player when connected by USB. MTP enables users to quickly synchronize music between the PC and the phone
Verizon charges $1.99 for dual downloads of the same song in WMA and WMA Pro formats. Sprint's service charges $2.50 per dual download of the same song. One version is downloaded over the air in the AAC+ format protected by a non-Microsoft rights-management technology. The second version is downloaded by a PC for playback in Microsoft's protected WMA format. Sprint's music phones play unprotected MP3, AAC, and AAC+ files transferred from a PC but not WMA files, whether protected or unprotected.
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