Verizon, gearing for iPhone fight, offers free Prince tune

Wireless carrier is giving away digital copies of musician's latest single as it sets the stage for a mobile-music battle with Apple.

Verizon Wireless is giving away digital copies of Prince's latest single as it sets the stage for an impending mobile-music battle with Apple.

On Thursday, the second-largest wireless carrier in the U.S. announced that it would be exclusively offering Prince's new single "Guitar" through its V Cast service. And subscribers will be able to download the song, which will appear on Prince's upcoming album Planet Earth, for free.

The exclusive content deal is part of a larger strategy as Verizon takes on AT&T, which will launch the much anticipated Apple iPhone next month. Verizon doesn't yet have an iPhone killer, so the company has been pushing its mobile music store, which has more than 1.9 million songs.

While AT&T subscribers using the iPhone will have access to the popular iTunes music store, they won't be able to download music over the air the way they can with Verizon's V Cast service. Verizon hopes this added convenience will be enough to entice customers to use its service instead of AT&T's service.

"Mobile is the future of music," said John Harrobin, senior vice president of digital media for Verizon Wireless. "According to our own research, 95 percent of downloaded songs come from over-the-air, versus being tethered to a PC."

As part of this strategy, Verizon has just launched a new service called Song ID, which allows people to identify songs simply by holding up their handset to a speaker when the song is playing. Once the song is identified, people can purchase the full track immediately.

Verizon used to charge users to identify songs, but it is now offering Song ID as a free feature on V Cast. And to promote Song ID it is offering Prince's "Guitar" exclusively on V Cast in the hopes of getting more people to try the service. So far, Song ID is only available on certain handsets including, LG's Chocolate, enV, VX8700 and VX9400, along with Motorola's Razr Maxx Ve and Samsung's SCH-u620.

Some analysts are skeptical that Verizon's focus on mobility will be enough to battle AT&T and the iPhone.

"Verizon is clearly making a statement that it wants people to look to them for music," said Linda Barrabee, an analyst with the Yankee Group. "But they've got to do more than just strike a deal with Prince or offer Song ID. It's about the end-to-end experience. What they really need is a cool phone."

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