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Thomas Dolby sounds out wireless market

Beatnik, the company founded by the musician, steps into the wireless fray by signing deals with Texas Instruments and a major chip manufacturer.

Beatnik, the music company founded by musician Thomas Dolby Robertson, stepped into the wireless fray Tuesday by signing deals with Texas Instruments and a major chip manufacturer.

The Beatnik audio engine, which is already used by wired Web sites to add sound effects and enhance online games, will become part of possibly millions of cell phones starting as soon as 2001, Dolby said.

TI plans to add a stripped-down version of the Beatnik software onto its signal processor, which is already in about half of all cell phones. ARM has agreed to incorporate the software into its microprocessor chipsets.

The first cell phones equipped with the audio engine could debut by the end of 2001, Dolby said. Some possible uses include adding better effects for mobile gaming and allowing wireless Web sites to talk back to visitors to help guide them through a site.

Beatnik has been on the wired Web for several years, and its work is evident in the online gaming communities. Its signature product is the library of sounds it sells to augment sites.

Dolby said he's trying to push Beatnik into the wireless realm, a young market that is still working out its content kinks. Analysts are split on just what works for the mobile Web, with some suggesting business applications, others games and music.

Dolby said he?s aiming straight for the real market movers--the teenagers who are driving the handset market.

"What's really driving the penetration of new handset devices is youth market," Dolby said. "Most of the activity they use the phone for is social activity, staying connected, staying communicating. Music is one of the top interests of that particular demographic."