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Kitty says 'Hello' via cell phone

Cingular, Nokia and Sanrio team to bring the Japanese cultural icon Hello Kitty to a cell phone near you. Photo: It's Hello Kitty calling

Cell phones are purring Hello Kitty.

On the 30th anniversary of the popular Japanese cartoon cat, and with holiday shopping in full swing, handset maker Nokia, No. 1 U.S. operator Cingular Wireless and Hello Kitty creator Sanrio are releasing a themed cell phone based on Kitty and her various sidekicks.

Though aimed at preteen females, Sanrio's Hello Kitty characters have won a worldwide following with fans of all ages. Hello Kitty herself, and other characters such as Keroppi, Badtz Maru, Pochacco and Chococat, appear on everything from lunch boxes to bicycles to coffee makers.

The cell phone, which is pink and covered with Sanrio characters, is for sale through the company's Web site and retail outlets, according to a Nokia representative. In the United States, it'll be sold as "prepay," meaning customers will pay up front for the airtime rather than sign a service contract and pay the operator every month. For now, according to the representative, the phone uses Cingular Wireless' network.

By making the doe-eyed characters available to cell phone manufacturers, Sanrio joins the swelling ranks of entertainment companies trying to increase the relatively paltry number of young adults who own cell phones and other consumer electronics devices. While nearly 80 percent of adults have cell phones today, according to researcher IDC, only 40 percent of American youths ages 15 through 19 subscribe to wireless services.

Aside from Sanrio, which began selling a Hello Kitty PC in 1998, youth entertainment giant Walt Disney has also put its brand to work selling information technology. In early August, Disney unveiled its Disney Dream Desk PC, a computer with a liquid crystal display that is Mickey-shaped, along with a mouse designed for small hands and Disney applications such as a drawing program.

A Sanrio representative was unavailable for comment.