Sony Ericsson Plans Walkman Phone

CANNES, FRANCE -- Sony Ericsson will unveil a mobile phone-cum-digital music player early next month, company President Miles Flint announced at the 3GSM World Congress here this week.

The phone will carry a name which has already appeared on some 350 million music players over the last 25 years, he says: the Walkman brand of Sony Ericsson's parent company, Sony. The Walkman phone will play music file formats such as MP3 and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), according to Rikko Sakaguchi, Sony Ericsson's head of product and application planning.

Sony Ericsson will unveil the phone next month, and will go on to exhibit it at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, which opens March 10, Sakaguchi says.

To be a success, the music phone must make it easy to browse, select, and play music, Flint says. "And it has to have fantastic sound quality," one of Sony's strengths, he says.


Flint was tight-lipped about further details, though. The phone needs to have "enough" storage capacity, but won't be expected to hold an entire music collection, Flint says. "In our cars, we tend to think six to 10 CDs is enough."

If a similar capacity is enough for a mobile phone, that would translate to between 250 MB and 750 MB of storage, at typical data rates for compressed digital music files and assuming the CDs contained between 40 and 75 minutes of music.

Flint expects that, at first, people will rip their own CDs and copy them to the phone, but Sony Ericsson will also work with Sony's Connect online music store to provide a music download service for the phone.

For the last few months, Sony Ericsson has been looking at how to use the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) Digital Rights Management (DRM) specification to stop the phone from being used to make unauthorized copies of copyright music files, and the Connect store is also moving towards OMA DRM, Flint says.

Future phones from rival handset maker Nokia will include the ability to play files in Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format, those two companies announced this week. However, Sony Ericsson's Flint would not say whether his company has plans to add support for such proprietary music formats.

"We are talking with many people about partnerships, but there's nothing in that area I would talk about," he says.

Other New Sony Phones

Sony also announced three new mobile phones for UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System) 3G (third generation) wireless networks, two of which already include music player functions.

The clamshell-format Z800 can play MP3 and AAC music files stored on a 1MB removable Memory Stick Duo. The memory card can also be used to store pictures taken with the built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, or calendar, contacts, and other data transferred from a PC over the phone's Bluetooth short-range radio, infrared, or USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections. The Z800 works on UMTS and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks in the 900-MHz, 1800-MHz, and 1900-MHz frequency bands, and will be available in the second quarter, the company says.

The soapbar-shaped K600i is a 3G phone aimed at the mass market. "Call it a T610 for 3G," says Flint, referring to the company's iconic GPRS phone. The K600i contains an FM radio, and can also play music tracks downloaded or transferred from a PC via a USB connection. Video conferencing is possible using the built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, and the phone comes with a game: Vijay Singh Pro Golf 2005 in 3D. The phone works on UMTS and GPRS networks in the 900-MHz, 1800-MHz, and 1900-MHz frequency bands, and will go on sale in the third quarter, Sony Ericsson says.

The third new device is a PC Card modem, the GC95. On UMTS networks, it delivers data rates of up to 384 kilobits per second, the company says. It can also operate on EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) networks in four frequency bands (850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz), where it delivers data rates of up to 247 kbps. The card will go on sale in the third quarter, and is compatible with computers with a Type II, 32-bit Cardbus PC Card slot and running the Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Mac OS X operating systems.

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