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T-MOBILE BOWS “EAR PHONES”
IN EUROPE
New Phones Can Download, Store Songs in Sneak Peek Play
Marking the latest public debut of what has been touted as one of the mobile phone industry’s next-big-things since at least 2000, T-Mobile of Germany yesterday launched its first series of phones built with its “Ear Phones” technology, which allow users to download, store and play music. The initial rollout covers England, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The first generation “Ear Phones” handsets can hold only three CD-quality songs, meaning they aren’t likely to put Apple’s iPod out of business any time soon. And the first batch of 500 songs is made up of special “mobile mixes” of just 90 to 120 seconds in length. But T-Mobile has promised to deliver some 2,500 full-length songs by Christmas, according to reports—bandwidth and digital rights management issues allowing. Did we say “digital rights management”? Sorry, we didn’t mean to curse.

T-Mobile has already struck deals with Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group to help move the project forward. Hoping to give the Ear Phones initiative some “sneak peek” appeal, the labels will reportedly make some songs available to the service up to two weeks prior to their release in other formats.

Mobile phone companies, of course, want to sell more phones and have them spend more time on their networks, while music companies desperately want to find new ways for people to legally acquire music, making the music-cell phone match a natural. Cell phone ring tones and “ring tunes” have already become a surprisingly lucrative business for rights holders.

Each Ear Phones track will be priced at 1.50 euro ($1.80) to start. Presumably, the labels will be responsible for compensating songwriters and publishers, as with Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

“We believe that music and the mobile space will continue to converge as a lifestyle focal point, and we intend to ensure that our artists realize the full benefit of that convergence,” Sony Music International Sr. VP of New Technologies Jim McDermott told Reuters.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile has called on its competitors to get together on a standardized method for delivering “mobile music.” Other European cell phone companies including Vodafone and MM02 have reportedly had little success with their own music downloading services.

“We need one standard platform and we need to have that standard reconciled with the music industry," T-Mobile marketing chief Nikesh Arora told the Financial Times. “As you introduce propriety standards you need to create rival systems and rival systems stunt the growth of the industry.”

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