A hard drive for cell phones

Agere Systems' unique portable server is the size of a credit card

Plugged In

December 21, 2006|By Jeanne Bonner | Jeanne Bonner,The Morning Call

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Agere Systems unveiled a device this week that will allow cell phone users to carry and store larger amounts of digital songs, messages, video games and contact information anywhere they go.

The device, a portable hard-disk drive with processing capability, performs many of the same functions as an iPod music player or a personal digital assistant. However, it doesn't depend on a computer and doesn't have a screen or a keyboard.

Users can load content onto their phones and transfer it for storage to the BluOnyx Mobile Content Server, as wide as a credit card and about as thick as a cell phone.

Additionally, the server can back up songs, videos, photos and phone numbers and transfer them to other devices or new cell phones. That will give consumers a central, portable depository to store digital content that can be shown on a variety of devices.

Users also can share their content with others. That means a cell phone user can beam stored photos to friends via the BluOnyx.

Agere typically makes chips used in consumer devices such as cell phones and digital music players. Agere's BluOnyx server is one of only a handful of consumer products the chipmaker has produced.

Agere expects to sell the product to cell phone manufacturers and other companies that will resell it under their own brands at retail stores. Depending on memory capacity, models will cost consumers between $99 and $250.

The company believes it is a one-of-a-kind product. Industry analysts say the device is unique, but are more cautious about its market potential.

"It does seem to be a bit of a first of its kind," said John Rydning, an analyst with market research firm IDC who covers hard-disk drives and components.

"What makes Agere's device new and different really is you're operating the device through a mobile phone as opposed to through a different type of interface."

But analysts say the product could hit some obstacles later next year when it is rolled out to consumers. For example, consumers might not want to carry two devices to operate their cell phones. It's also unclear whether communication with the server will deplete the phone's battery.

"The appeal of mobile phones is that it's an all-in-one device," said Michael Wolf, an analyst with ABI Research, who was briefed on the product.

Others say it's not easy to predict its success, because the device does not fit into one product category. While it differs from an iPod, it's nonetheless likely to compete with the well-known music player made by Apple.

"It is such a new product, such a new concept, it is really hard to tell how consumers might react," said Rydning, of IDC.

The sleek device, which resembles an iPod, will provide 1 gigabyte to 40 gigabytes of internal storage, depending on the model. Cell phones typically have fewer than 5 gigabytes of internal memory, while iPods range from 1 gigabyte to 80 gigabytes. The server contains a rechargeable battery.

Agere is releasing the product in two phases. The first version, which will be demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas, will transfer data via a wireless Bluetooth connection, a USB cable or a memory card.

A second version will exchange content with cell phones wirelessly through a Wi-Fi connection. Both versions won't hit the market until late next year. Company officials said it should be compatible with all cell phone types.

Jeanne Bonner writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

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