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Apple heads for new carrier collision

Wireless iPod patent uncloaked

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The US Patent and Trademark Office has published two patent applications today which offer some clue to the future shape of the iPod, and also Apple's ambitions as a digital media distributor. As well as an intriguing glimpse of what a wireless iPod could do, it potentially sets Apple on a collision course with the major cellular phone networks.

Patent application (#20060095339), filed 18 months ago, describes an iPod that's fully wireless enabled - but envisages it as a portable shopping cart rather than a device for sharing media.

It's sure to be read with great interest by lawyers at the giant cellular phone carriers. It also describes a method of tagging a digital media file on one device and network and downloading it to another device on another network. That's very similar to how Sprint and Verizon - to name but two - allow you to buy a song over the air, and then tag it for downloading to your PC when you get home.

And this has the potential to bring Apple into a head-on collision with the carriers, once again.

Apple sidestepped just such a conflict late last year.

As we exclusively revealed in December, Apple had developed software to enable users to purchase ringtones through the iTunes Music Store. Slated for inclusion in the iLife '06 suite, Apple has declined to ship the technology, which has the potential to dent a major source of data revenue for the cellular networks.

It may have proved a useful bargaining chip, however. This week, reports declared that Apple had prevailed in its fight with the major record labels to keep downloads priced at 99 cents per song. The labels hoped to use the cellular networks, who price songs at $2.50 per download, as leverage against the iTunes operation, in an attempt to raise prices.

If Apple builds out the technologies described in the 2004 application, the company Apple can stake a claim on the ringtones market again. Patent application #20060095339 describes a wireless-enabled device that can purchase ringtones and graphics, as well as eBooks, over a cellular network. It also specifies personal area networking technologies such as Ultra Wide Band.

While Apple is unlikely to build true P2P PAN file sharing into the iPod - despite user demand - PAN kiosks in high street stores will be able to dispense ringtones and song files to shoppers, using service points such as BlueRay.

It's something the mobile carriers have been planning for some time.

A second patent application published today (#20060095848) describes a technique for adding voice commands to an iPod, with the host PC doing the heavy duty processing. ®

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