T-Mobile turns handsets into music players

European download service for cell phones equipped with T-Mobile's Ear Phone technology cuts out cost of player. But what about song prices?

Germany's T-Mobile is trying its luck with online music, launching a download service that lets digital music fans in Europe play songs over their cell phones.

The service allows subscribers to download tunes to T-Mobile handsets equipped with its new Ear Phones technology. Three of the five major record labels--Sony, Warner and Universal Music--and various independent music labels have signed on the dotted line as partners.

T-Mobile is introducing five cell phones compatible with the service, with seven more to join the stable before the end of the year.

Currently, the service offers just music clips--tunes truncated to less than two minutes--but by next year, the operator plans to sell full-length songs as well as videos, with a catalogue of some 250,000 downloads available by Christmas.

Rival wireless carriers O2 and Vodafone have already launched their own mobile music services, but neither has seen stellar take-up. The mobile operators have been hoping to cash in on the MP3 craze that has seen iTunes and Napster launch services in Europe.

T-Mobile is hoping that it'll be able to tempt users to mobiles rather than MP3 players by hooking them on price and convenience. The starting price for an Ear Phones handset will be around 30 pounds ($55), compared with the hundreds of pounds usually needed to buy a digital music player.

The price per track will be 1.50 pounds ($2.75), however, considerably more than rival MP3 sellers charge--iTunes, for example, charges 79 pence ($1.45) for most songs. Nevertheless, T-Mobile is predicting it will sell one million tracks by the middle of next year and four million by the end of 2006.

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