Sony Ericsson counters Motorola with Walkman phone

Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB will counter Motorola's introduction yesterday of its first iTunes-compatible cell phone when it unveils a mobile phone-cum-digital music player early next month, company President Miles Flint announced at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes on Monday.

The phone will carry a name which has already appeared on some 350 million music players over the last 25 years, he said: the Walkman brand of Sony Ericsson's parent company, Sony Corp.

It will play open music file formats such as MP3 and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), according to Rikko Sakaguchi, Sony Ericsson's head of product and application planning.

Sony Ericsson will unveil the phone next month, and will go on to exhibit it at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, which opens March 10, Sakaguchi said.

To be a success, the music phone must make it easy to browse, select and play music, Flint said. "And it has to have fantastic sound quality," one of Sony's strengths, he said.

He was tight-lipped about further details, though.

The phone needs to have "enough" storage capacity, but won't be expected to hold an entire music collection, Flint said. "In our cars, we tend to think six to 10 CDs is enough."

If a similar capacity is enough for a mobile phone, that would translate to between 250MB and 750MB of storage, at typical data rates for compressed digital music files and assuming the CDs contained between 40 and 75 minutes of music.

Flint expects that, at first, people will rip their own CDs and copy them to the phone, but Sony Ericsson will also work with Sony's Connect online music store to provide a music download service for the phone.

For the last few months, Sony Ericsson has been looking at how to use the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) Digital Rights Management (DRM) specification to stop the phone from being used to make unauthorized copies of copyright music files, and the Connect store is also moving towards OMA DRM, Flint said.

Future phones from rival handset maker Nokia Corp. will include the ability to play files in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Audio format, those two companies announced Monday. However, Sony Ericsson's Flint would not say whether his company has plans to add support for such proprietary music formats.

"We are talking with many people about partnerships, but there's nothing in that area I would talk about," he said.

Sony also announced three new mobile phones for UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System) 3G (third generation) wireless networks, two of which already include music player functions.

The clamshell-format Z800 can play MP3 and AAC music files stored on a 1MB removable Memory Stick Duo. The memory card can also be used to store pictures taken with the built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, or calendar, contacts and other data transferred from a PC over the phone's Bluetooth short-range radio, infrared or USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections. The Z800 works on UMTS and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz frequency bands, and will be available in the second quarter, the company said.

The soapbar-shaped K600i is a 3G phone aimed at the mass market. "Call it a T610 for 3G," said Flint, referring to the company's iconic GPRS phone. The K600i contains an FM radio, and can also play music tracks downloaded or transferred from a PC via a USB connection. Video conferencing is possible using the built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, and the phone comes with a game: Vijay Singh Pro Golf 2005 in 3D. The phone works on UMTS and GPRS networks in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz frequency bands, and will go on sale in the third quarter, Sony Ericsson said.

The third new device is a PC Card modem, the GC95. On UMTS networks, it delivers data rates of up to 384kbps (bits per second), the company said. It can also operate on EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) networks in four frequency bands (850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz), where it delivers data rates of up to 247K bps (bits per second). The card will go on sale in the third quarter, and is compatible with computers with a Type II, 32-bit Cardbus PC Card slot and running the Windows 2000, Windows XP or Mac OS X operating systems.

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