Siemens, a German electronics giant, has built a phone that doubles as an MP3 player. But instead of storing the music on the phone, which has very sparse memory, the music is kept on a flash memory card that is popped into the phone like a floppy disk is popped into a personal computer.
These cards, which provide removable storage for many devices, can store up to 45 minutes of music, but can take several minutes to prepare.
Using current methods, owners of these high-end handsets must connect their phones to a computer to transfer data, even if their phone has a flash memory card. But Siemens announced Monday that it will market a device built by Fremont, Calif.-based SCM Microsystems capable of loading the data onto these flash memory cards up to 20 times faster.
The announcement is another sign of the growing complexity of cell phones, as service providers have begun combining cell phones with other devices, including personal digital assistants, MP3 players or cameras. The more that cell phones are capable of, carriers believe, the more money they will make.
But analysts warn there are inherent dangers in packing too much technology onto a small device like a cell phone. The result has not been very positive so far. Software glitches in handsets have forced the delay in launching many of the high-speed phone networks meant to deliver the next generation of faster wireless telephone and Internet service.
With Monday's announcement Siemens moves further into an area that could be precarious, according to analysts, choosing to stake its claim in the market for phones that are capable of playing digital music. Recently, activity among the 40 million-plus users of digital music-swapping giant Napster has diminished substantially.
But Siemens and its partners remain upbeat.
"People are still pretty interested in getting whatever music they can over the Internet," said SCM Microsystems spokeswoman Darby Dye. "It is still an active market."
There is a market for music on cell phones, with nearly 75 percent of college students involved in a survey telling digital music industry watchers Webnoize that they'd pay extra for the right to download music onto their phones.
But with that technology still years away, Siemens may be playing it smart to try and offer a better way to make the current music loading methods more palatable, said Matt Bailey, senior analyst for Webnoize.
"It may really be more than a year before a majority of consumers can afford to download music," he said. "In the meantime, there is a large demand for getting music on cell phones."