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Sprint, Samsung offer mobile phone with built-in MP3 player

Industry Standard

(IDG) -- With competition heating up and prices for voice services dropping, wireless carriers are scrambling to stand out from the crowd this holiday season. To that end, Sprint PCS, the fourth-biggest wireless carrier in the U.S., is plunging into the digital-music business with a product that seems more like a publicity stunt than a must-have gadget -- but it's not a bad start.

Capitalizing on the popularity of online music, Sprint is introducing the Uproar mobile phone, made by Samsung, featuring a built-in MP3 player -- believed to be the first such device to hit the U.S. market. At $400, the combo device is cheaper than buying a mobile phone and a portable MP3 player separately, but its lack of removable memory is a drawback. It's also a little on the pricey side for the teenage/college market that Sprint is targeting.

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The phone comes with a supplementary free service called My Music, which is where the product offering gets more interesting. Sprint has teamed up with a business-to-business startup in Seattle called HitHive.com, which creates digital-music services for other businesses. The Sprint service is HitHive's first rollout and is designed to let users upload MP3 files to their servers, organize songs into playlists and download them to the Uproar phone through a cable. For users new to MP3, Sprint also provides RealNetworks' (RNWK) RealJukebox for ripping CDs and converting songs into the MP3 format.

The companies have been treading carefully around the legal minefield that is the MP3 format. For example, once My Music users have transferred a song to their phones, they must check them back in before they can play the songs on a PC -- hardly as user-friendly as Napster's controversial service but ostensibly more lawyer-friendly. Sprint's MP3 player also can't download a song directly over a wireless connection without a universal serial bus cable, so swapping MP3s with other My Music-enabled users isn't in the cards yet.

According to HitHive, the two companies plan to sell digital music and other music-related items in the first quarter of the next year, sharing a cut of transaction fees with Sprint. Long-term, Sprint hopes to create a community around the My Music service, eventually adding user reviews and other sticky features. There's sure to be skepticism about a wireless carrier branching out into music content, but Sprint certainly can't be accused of letting the digital-music revolution pass it by.




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RELATED SITES:
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