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RealNetworks strikes a chorus of deals

Aiming to better compete against Apple and Microsoft, the company lines up Nokia, TiVo, Logitech, others to support its Rhapsody technology.

LAS VEGAS--Aiming to make headway against Apple Computer and Microsoft in the music business, RealNetworks is announcing a slew of partnerships Monday for its Rhapsody technology.

In conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas, the Seattle-based company is announcing deals with, among others, Nokia, TiVo, Logitech and Reigncom, the Korean company that makes the iRiver brand of devices.

"Our vision for Rhapsody is to deliver seamless and personalized access to millions of songs, on-demand and from any device," RealNetworks Senior Vice President Dan Sheeran said in a statement. "Last October, we released tools and technologies that enable CE companies to deliver on that vision by creating products with built-in access to Rhapsody. With industry leaders like Nokia, SanDisk, iRiver, and Sonos embracing Rhapsody DNA, we look forward to a steady stream of Rhapsody-enabled CE products in 2007."

RealNetworks is aiming to combat the iPod-iTunes combination as well as two rival approaches from Microsoft. One is Microsoft's longstanding PlaysForSure system, which uses Windows Media technology and is made available to a variety of music services and device makers. More recently, Microsoft has shifted much of its energy to the Zune, in which it is responsible for all aspects of the product--the device itself, software and service.

Sensing an opportunity, Real is offering Rhapsody to device makers as an alternative service to align behind. The company announced a deal in September with SanDisk to include Rhapsody support on some Sansa-model MP3 players.

Monday's array of partnerships indicate their is further interest in such an option.

Two new iRiver devices will work with Rhapsody, including a Wi-Fi player that will be able to download subscription music directly from Real's service. The iRiver Clix 2, the successor to the Windows Media-based Clix, will also support Rhapsody. Both devices will ship in the U.S. in the first quarter and come in 2GB and 4GB models. The Wi-Fi device will have a 3-inch screen and be capable of voice over Internet Protocol calling, while the Clix 2 will feature an FM radio, video playback and voice recording abilities.

Nokia, meanwhile, plans next month to start supporting Rhapsody in the latest version of its portable Linux-based Internet tablet, the N800.

Logitech, for its part, will allow Rhapsody content to be played without a PC through its Squeezebox and Transporter home audio products. The Rhapsody abilities will be available in the U.S. from January 15 onward as a free downloadable update for owners of either device. Logitech recently acquired the two product lines as part of its acquisition of Slim Devices.

In addition to those partnerships, Real is also announcing a deal with TiVo in which, later this year, subscribers to both companies services will be able to get Rhapsody content directly from their TiVo box.

Real also announced it has licensed its Rhapsody DNA technology to two chipmakers--SigmaTel and Telechips--in hopes of seeing Real's system incorporated into a wider array of products.

Despite the new competition from Real and Microsoft, Apple continues to dominate the market with its iPod and iTunes, with the iPod accounting for eight of the top 10 music-player models sold at five key retailers during last year's holiday season.