Sony to work with Intel on mobile music tech

Pre-empting 'Napster for cellphones'?

Sony's Music division has selected Intel's next generation of PDA processor, codenamed 'Bulverde', as its mobile processor of choice, the company effectively said yesterday.

The deal the two firms announced will see the two co-operate to bring Sony's content to Intel-based PDAs and cellphones. The pair will create applications that run on Intel's hardware yet leverages Sony's content.

Intel has already decided multimedia will be a key component of phones and other handheld devices in years to come. That's why it's building the MMX multimedia instructions it developed for its Pentium processors into the next generation of its XScale chip line, Bulverde.

That processor is due mid-2004, and has been described by its maker as enabling an "Xbox in a phone" experience. The chip also incorporates better power management and digicam support - essential for the increasingly camera-hungry cellphone market.

The Sony connection is also interesting, but not from a technological standpoint. While you might expect Sony's Computer Entertainment division to be keen on Bulverde's scope for improving 3D mobile gaming, music is actually pretty low-tech from a playback perspective. It's also fairly platform agnostic, in that whatever format its encoded in can be decoded by an app on any suitable processor. Bulverde's Wireless MMX technology will improve playback, but it will do so for content from Sony Music's rivals too.

No, what's interesting about the announcement is that Sony, as a content creator, is preparing itself for the next wave of personal entertainment technology. Having missed the boat somewhat on the Internet - as the Napster saga to ably demonstrates - Sony, for one among the giants of the music industry, wants to make sure its ready for a world where we all perhaps listen to rented music on mobile devices.

It's too early to say whether Sony Music will itself offer such services, work with partners like cellular carriers and handset makers, or both, but it's clear the company is researching the technology and what it services it will enable. ®

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