With the release of the ROKR from Apple, Cingular, and Motorola, iTunes came to mobile phones, allowing users to easily load music to a phone via the familiar iTunes interface. Consumers may wonder whether, like Bluetooth and cameras, iTunes integration will become a common feature on most phones. Although the ROKR is most likely only the first of many phones that will work with iTunes, over the short term, at least, it’s going to remain the only game in town.
Most manufacturers already offer phones that play back MP3s and other audio files. Some of these are smart phones with scaled down versions of the Windows operating system. Others just seek to add music playback to a phones basic features. Yet none of the manufacturers
spoke with following the ROKR’s release had any immediate plans to add iTunes compatibility, due largely to Apple’s digital rights management (DRM) technology, which must be licensed from Apple.
Finnish mobile juggernaut Nokia notes that while it has no immediate plans to roll out an iTunes compatible product, it remains a possibility, and in the meantime it already has several products that will allow consumers to store music on phones.
“We’re always in discussion with Apple,” says Nokia spokesperson Camilla Grägg, noting that the company maintains discussions with multiple music vendors. “But what Apple does is use proprietary DRM software. As such, it is up to them to make that decision who they play with.”
Grägg says that Nokia prefers to support open source models that comply with OMA (Open Mobile Alliance) standards. OMA is a neutral, global group that defines and promotes open standards for new mobile-phone-related technologies, focusing specifically on mobile data services.
However, Grägg notes that Nokia, like most mobile companies, already has several phones on the market that play music downloads, be they from the carrier, downloaded from the Internet, or transferred from a desktop computer.
“Nokia has pioneered music on the mobile phones for many years. In fact, we sold over 10 million music players in 2004. And we expect to sell close to 40 million music players in 2005,” she says.
The company’s flagship music device, the Nokia N91, plays both MP3 and WMA audio via a 4GB built-in hard drive capable of storing roughly 3,000 tracks. The phone also sports Bluetooth and WiFi (802.11 b and g) enabling over-the-air [OTA] downloads.
“I definitely think that people are moving more towards converged devices. You want to leave your house with only one device,” says Grägg, noting that although Nokia sells a variety of phones that play music or take pictures, convergence devices such as the N91 seems to be the wave of the future.
“I’m not sure if [the ROKR] will change a lot, but I think it’s a step in the right direction to bringing music to people on the move and bringing connected music,” says Grägg.
Likewise, Sony Ericsson—a company with ties to portable music that date back to the 1980s—notes that Apple’s DRM scheme will prevent it from offering iTunes compatibility until such time as it becomes compatible with OMA standards.
“We definitely see a growth in music phones. Last year we showed that it could be a credible imaging device with megapixel cameras,” says Cherie Gary, vice president of corporate communications for Sony Ericsson.
“Everybody is looking to the next big thing, and music is one of those things. I can’t speak to whether we will work with iTunes specifically but we will work with other providers, we will work with [Sony Ericsson partner] Sony Connect first,” says Gary, who notes that the company is moving towards working with other major online music vendors as well.
“Most of it is around standards for DRM,” explains Gary. “I think once that standard is developed you’ll see a lot more cross-integration in terms of what portals you get your music from. Apple has a proprietary DRM. We’re not looking at it that way. Our intention is to be an open standard so if you download music off iTunes, or from Microsoft or any other place and you want to put it on your phone, there will be a way to do that.”
Currently, Sony Ericsson has several phones that will play music. The W800 Walkman phone with 512MB of memory has already been selling for several months worldwide and available in some locations in the United States, such as New York and San Francisco, that support tri-band phones. The W600 Walkman phone, with 256MB of memory is designed for the North American market and starts selling in October.
Another industry giant, Siemens, says that although it has no plans to release an iTunes-enabled phone, the company does offer several other phones that will play music.
“We were the first mobile phone company in the world to introduce an MP3 player phone back in 2000, but that’s all we’ve stuck with,” says Jacob Rice of Siemens.
“The SL 45 had a built in MMC slot, so you could store the files on the MMC card. Then the next phone we had was the SX1 which also had a built in MMC card,” he notes. “The XS56 and XS66, both of which ran the Windows mobile operating system, could obviously play MP3s and other multimedia. Those have been more multi-function devices, designed to be both be PDA and personal entertainment device, a smart phone.”
Though it continues to roll out smart phones, Rice says he knows of no plans to to incorporate iTunes functionality into its products. “I’m not aware of anything that’s coming out like that,” he says, though he notes that those decisions are made elsewhere. “We’ve actually sold our mobile phone operations to BenQ from Taiwan.”