Apple talks up mid-range Motorola 'iPod phone'

Coming sooner than we think?

Apple has declared itself "very happy" with Motorola's attempt to build an iPod-style mobile phone that can play songs downloaded from its iTunes Music Store.

The two companies announced an agreement which will see Apple develop a version of its iTunes jukebox for future Motorola handsets last July. At the time, the partners said the phones would come to market sometime during H1 2005.

In an interview with Forbes, Apple's iTunes chief, Eddy Cue, reiterated that release timeframe but teasingly noted that "hopefully you'll be able to see more about it soon", seen by the magazine as a hint that CEO Steve Jobs will whip one out at Macworld Expo next month.

We might add that Motorola has an announcement scheduled for 6 January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which could possibly cover the same subject. It could also be entirely unrelated.

Either way, they don't want to hang around. iTunes rival Napster is already touting a service aimed at Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition-based smart phones, such as the Audiovox SMT5600, better known in Europe as the Orange SPV-C500, in Australia as the i-Mate Smartphone 3, in New Zealand as the Qtek 8020 and in China as the Dopod 565.

"What we've talked about is a something that is valuable for the mass market," Cue said. "It has to be a phone in the middle-tier of the market, not a $500-tier phone. It has to be very seamless to use. And we're very happy with the results."

'Seamless' presumably means an easy cable or wireless (Bluetooth) link to a host PC or Mac running iTunes. While the possibility of over-the-network downloads is there, Apple and Motorola appear to be focusing for now on positioning the phone as an adjunct to a computer in much the same way the iPod is, rather than as a music download device in its own right, not least because of the speed factor. There's also the cost of GPRS downloads, but that's less of an issue in the US than Europe because unlimited-access price plans are more commonplace there.

Would such a device compete with the iPod? Of course it does, but for now it's appealing to an audience more keen on the upcoming Flash iPod - assuming this device and the handset aren't one and the same, of course - than on the traditional hard drive-based player. Phones with hard drives are already here, but they're a long way from matching the iPod's capacity. ®

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