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CPRM phones home

Alive and well, and coming to a handset near you

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If you're expecting tomorrow's consumer devices to be as open as today's PC, you're in for a disappointment. Smartphones and connected PDAs will feature strong digital rights management technology, with CPRM tipped as the DRM software of choice for removable media.

Nokia announced its 5510 handset today, which integrates an MP3 player, radio and a QWERTY keyboard. The 5510 takes some bold steps with the traditional phone form factor, and if you're a fan of interesting industrial design, it's worth having a look at here.

And in common with Nokia's earlier MP3 player, it enforces digital rights management for media files.

A CD ripped using Nokia's Audio Manager software will only be encoded in an encrypted AACAAC format. Even if you use a third party ripper to create an MP3 format file, the Audio Manager upload software ensures it arrives on the phone as an encrypted AAC file.

The Nokia 5510 has a page illustrating how users will be able to exchange media files with each other, but Pekka Isosomppi, a spokesman for Nokia, told us that the scenario wouldn't extend to music ripped from Audio CDs.

"The quality of something recorded from the radio is FM standard, not digital quality," he said.

He hoped consumers would accept the AAC format because of its compression benefits over MP3, with AAC file sizes typically half the size of MP3 files.

"It's a win-win for consumers: it enforces positive behavior, and it informs the user of good copyright practices," he told us.

CPRM

Future smartphones using the Symbian OS will support CPRM for removable SD cards in hardware, Bill Pinnell, Symbian's Strategic Product Manager for Multimedia, told us.

This is hardly a surprise: Matsushita backed the CPRM specification for its SD card, which was specifically designed as a SDMI vehicle, and the Japanese giant is a shareholder in Symbian, and the two announced the arrangement almost a year ago. SD cards are becoming the defacto removable media for small devices, and are standard in new Palm devices and as an expansion option for Microsoft PocketPC PDAs, so it's becoming increasingly rare to find a device without SD support.

"We're an open phone OS, and you'll still be able to move media around," said Pinnell.

Nokia is the biggest phone manufacturer, and its handset shipments alone dwarf today's PDA market. It wouldn't say which DRM technologies it was examining, or if CPRM was amongst those on the list. But as the most enthusiastic Symbian shareholder - it's said half of its 3G handsets will be Symbian-based by 2004, it will have the option once CPRM becomes supported in a forthcoming release of the Symbian OS.

"We are looking at DRM," Isosomppi told us. "there are different solutions but it's very hard now to say how things will evolve."

CPRM gained its notoriety after moves to incorporate the technology into the ATA standard used by PC hard drives became public. CPRM's backers Intel, IBM, Toshiba and Matsushita quickly dropped the proposal, and declared that it would only be used for removable media. (Adding somewhat disingenuously that this was only ever their intention.)

As it turns out, with so much of the typical hard drive's command set comprising private, vendor-specific commands, they needn't have bothered: CPRM can, and probably will make its way into hard drives without recourse to an ANSI standards committee, as T.13's Hale Landis has pointed out.

But work on incorporating CPRM into removable formats has continued apace, and we'll be able to judge market acceptance next year when SD-equipped phones and PDAs appear in volume. ®

Related Link

CPRM on ATA: Full Coverage

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