Sony Ericsson set to unveil Walkman phones

Announcements at Cannes phone show indicate wireless industry is betting big on music.

CANNES, France--Swedish-Japanese mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson will launch digital Walkman phones in March to better tap into the mobile music market, seen as a top growth area for 2005, its CEO said on Monday.

"We are tapping into the Walkman heritage, reviving it," Chief Executive Miles Flint said, adding that more than 340 million Walkman music players have been sold since the line's introduction in 1979.

Prototypes of the new handsets were not yet available at the 3GSM mobile communications trade show in Cannes, but the announcement makes clear that the world's-sixth biggest mobile phone maker and its wireless operator customers have identified music as major growth opportunity, Flint said.

Flint's comments come on the same day Nokia announced it had struck a deal with Microsoft to put Microsoft's Windows Audio player in Nokia handsets. In a bid to reach a wider audience, Microsoft also said it will use open standards for its compression and anti-piracy software in its audio player.

Some of Sony Ericsson's models already feature a digital music player, but the new handsets will have more music playing features and will get access to Sony's digital download service on the Internet, called Connect.

The new Walkman phones, which will be available early in the second half of 2005, will have large memory, good-quality headphones and the ability to easily import tracks from a personal computer and other devices.

The Walkman phones will also be the first networked Walkmans to use open software standards for compression and piracy protection.

At the same time, Sony's Connect music store will also introduce open-standard software to compress tracks and protect them against piracy, Flint said. Sony currently uses its proprietary ATRAC and MagicGate technology to do that.

"But Sony's strategy is evolving. Don't worry about (proprietary) ATRAC," Flint said.

Flint said that mobile services operators were the main force behind this drive to open standards, which gives consumers more freedom to buy music online and enjoy their legally purchased music on a wide range of devices, instead of a small selection.

"With this initiative, we're not locking consumers into a proprietary digital rights management (anti-piracy) system, which is what operators want," he said.

The music-player handsets are to be "competitively priced" and are likely to work both with the fast 3G networks as well as the slower "always online" GPRS networks.

Improving its image
Sony Ericsson also announced two new 3G handsets with megapixel cameras on Monday.

The K600 will be a medium-priced mobile phone aimed more at the corporate user, Flint said. It has a 1.3 megapixel camera--which means photos taken by it can be printed in post-card size with good quality--and will start shipping in the third quarter.

The other 3G phone, the Z800, will ship in the second quarter.

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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