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Moto's iTunes phone - please try again later

Carriers want a cut

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Motorola has unexpectedly delayed plans to unveil a mobile phone that ships with a version of Apple's iTunes, and not so subtly blamed the networks for the hold-up. Announced last July, bullish comments from Motorola management before Xmas raised expectations that the handset would ship sooner rather than later.

But at CeBIT today, a Motorola source told The Register that the phone would be launched when the carriers give their approval. Despite the handset's absence, Moto was happy to promote Apple's iTunes Music Store on its stand, under a "Here! Music Downloads" banner...

The excitement about the deal, and recent front-page prominence given to the recent flurry of such agreements, is offset by a range of issues which continue to bedevil all the participants - on the technology and entertainment interests - and which are no nearer resolution than they were a year ago. The Motorola handset syncs with PC or Mac iTunes, but executives stressed at the time of the original announcement that it wouldn't support over the air (OTA) downloads. That's no surprise, as even with today's 3G networks, the capacity isn't really here yet to support a mass market. Network operators would prefer you to sample and buy songs much like ringtones today, only with with the download being sent to a PC. In addition, the carriers could use their expensive high street presence to install proximity servers to give passing customers instant gratification.

The upside of this approach is that the model gives them a cut of the transaction revenue the downside is that in a market which leaves just a few pennies for all but the recording rights holders, that cut of the transaction revenue will be keenly fought over. What terrifies the biggest recording rights holders isn't what they say in public - "piracy" - so much as the loss of their distribution channels.

At 3GSM in Cannes last month Microsoft and Nokia partnered to offer what they claim will be slick and seamless DRM downloads to Nokia phones. It's significant in that it doesn't (as we originally thought) involve transcoding, but is a dual-stack approach which sees Microsoft support OMA and AAC codecs within WMP, and Nokia supporting Windows Windows Media 10 DRM and MTP on its phones. Loudeye will build the stores. This in itself doesn't guarantee smooth synchronization (not one of either Nokia or Microsoft's historical strengths) but it should assure people that they'll be able to play the media - DRM notwithstanding.

Last week, Sony Ericsson revived the ancient Walkman brand for its first serious "music phone". So the non-Apple world is gradually getting its act into shape, and Motorola can't afford to rest on its laurels. ®

Tony Smith, reporting from CeBIT 2005, contributed to this report.

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