Motorola to unveil iTunes phone today

Project with Apple to operate on Cingular

September 07, 2005|By Jon Van | Jon Van,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The long-awaited iTunes music phone from Motorola Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. will be introduced today and could be in stores later this week.

Motorola's new phone, which will operate on the Cingular Wireless network, will be "the next generation of Swiss Army Knife cell phones," said Mitch Mitchell, an A.T. Kearney vice president, combining functions of Apple's iPod music player with voice, messaging and other cell phone features.

Other mobile phone makers, including Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung, have either introduced music phones or plan to do so soon, but Motorola's version - based on Apple's pioneering and popular iTunes format - has generated the most interest.

This year, Motorola signaled an iTunes phone announcement but backed away at the insistence of Apple, which traditionally announces new products shortly before they are available in stores rather than months in advance, as is common in the wireless phone industry.

Industry analysts expect that music phones will follow the path of camera phones, which account for about half the cell phones sold.

"The first wave [of music phones] will go to folks who have to have the latest gadget," said Mitchell. "It'll be similar to camera phones."

Launching an iTunes phone is seen as a major plus for Motorola, which has enjoyed a resurgence in mobile phone sales with the success of its ultrathin Razr phone and other stylish models.

"Clearly, Motorola is really coming back to its roots as an industry innovator," said Rene Link, vice president at inCode, a wireless industry consultant. "For a while, they'd lost the innovation lead to Nokia, but with the Razr phone, they regained it, and this iTunes phone keeps them in the lead."

While the benefits of a music phone to Motorola based on Apple's platform is clear, the benefits to Cingular or other wireless carriers have been less so.

Customers can use music phones in ways that bypass carriers by downloading music onto them directly from home computers. Wireless customers use camera phones to send images to one another, but music phones might not encourage more consumer network use.

Buyers of iTunes and iPods are the "future ideal customers," said Albert Lin, an analyst with American Technology Research. "Carriers will do everything to reach out to them. For a high-churn carrier like Cingular, this could be a good way to reduce churn."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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