MMW-37 -- The Latest in Mobile Karaoke Applications

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
M U S I C M E D I A W A T C H
Commentary on the week's music technology news
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Issue No. 37
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
Tokyo

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CONTENTS

++ FEATURE: The Latest in Mobile Karaoke Applications

++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
- Music Industry Vows to Continue Fight Against Online
Swapping
- Sony Begins Sale of New Copy-Protected CDs
- "Query by Humming" Makes Debut at Cannes

++ FEATURE: The Latest in Mobile Karaoke Applications

Early last year, we presented a survey of mobile music applications
available to users of Java-enabled phones in Japan. Since that time,
as the phones have become more powerful, the number and variety of
music apps has increased considerably, but the main staple
application for all of the major ringtone sites is still the karaoke
appli. In this feature, we'll examine how these programs have
progressed over the past year to take advantage of the latest handset
features, and we'll take a look at three of the most popular karaoke
applis in Japan today.

My first impression of mobile karaoke applications (which first
appeared for the 503i series of phones around mid-2001) was similar
to my first impression of ringtones in general: interesting, but
probably just a fad and nothing to get excited about. However, like
ringtones, the karaoke appli has become a surprisingly popular,
enduring and lucrative addition for the major ringtone providers,
almost all of whom now offer karaoke as a separate service, which is
charged separately from the general ringtone download service.

While the initial 503i karaoke applis were fairly simple and
straightforward, the karaoke features improved greatly over the past
year with the arrival of the 504i/iS models and the latest FOMA
models. Already in the first month of 2003, we've seen the debut of
two new FOMA phones for i-mode: Fujitsu's F2051 and NEC's N2051, and
a third (Matsushita's P2102V) is planned for release in late
February. These models all come equipped with large, high-resolution
screens, built-in cameras and infrared beaming capability.

Not surprisingly, nearly all of the karaoke applis have been adapted
to use the new cutting-edge features. In addition to the default
animations, users can now create an "album" of three to four photos,
which are rotated at regular intervals throughout the song. The
photos can be decorated with frames, text messages and simple
drawings, then beamed to a friend's album using the infrared port.
Just like downloading and trying out ringtones, it can be
surprisingly addictive (especially for young couples) to experiment
with karaoke screens of favorite songs using all kinds of recently
taken photos. In fact, it seems that these applications may be used
more for making funny and imaginative "slide shows" than for the
ostensible purpose of practicing karaoke.

So where can one find these applis? Although they are marketed as
separate services, all of the large ringtone sites have prominent
links to their karaoke applis. The largest by far is XING's Docokara
IIS service, which can be found at the top of the ringtone menu via
the Pokemelo Joysound site. Other popular karaoke services include
Victor's iKara-shot (as in camera shot), and Taito's iKara-x (we
don't know what the 'x' is for). All three of these services take
advantage of a DoJa API feature introduced with the 504i series
whereby an appli can be called directly from a web browser and
vice versa.

After registering, the user downloads the Java application. After
that, the user can return to the catalog of songs (the karaoke
"site") and browse the catalog until a desired song is found. Once a
song is selected, the appli is started directly from the browser and
the karaoke sequence begins. This structure allows providers to
easily add new songs to the karaoke catalog without ever having to
change the Java application.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most essential feature in a karaoke
application is also the most difficult (by far) for developers to
implement successfully. In any type of karaoke, as the song plays,
the lyrics are shown at the bottom of the screen and are painted over
in time with the lead vocal part. As we've discussed in previous MMW
features, this process of synchronizing graphic events to music is
extremely difficult, and there is still no direct API support, even
on the latest FOMA models mentioned above.

Although the "synchronization issue" is expected to improve somewhat
in May with the release of DoCoMo's 505i series of handsets, karaoke
service providers will still have to support the older models, using
complex authoring tools to add new songs to their karaoke catalogs.
While this bottleneck is a definite nuisance for those who must do
the authoring, there is still enough demand for these karaoke
applications that the providers will likely continue to bite the
bullet and keep adding songs.

-- Steve Myers

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++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS

** Music Industry Vows to Continue Fight Against Online Swapping

In Brief: This recent CNN.com article summarizes the latest
developments in the Record industry's ongoing battle against online
file-swapping services. At issue now is the question of whether
Internet service providers and other technology companies should be
responsible for monitoring the file-swapping activities of their
users. Last week, Internet executives dismissed comments by RIAA
president Hilary Rosen calling for more active policing of their
networks. At the same time, record industry executives reiterated
that they will continue to use legal pressure to shut down online
file swapping services.

Source:
http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/internet/01/24/music.online.reut/index.h
tml

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** Sony Begins Sale of New Copy-Protected CDs

In Brief: Sony Music Entertainment announced last week that it has
started sales of new CD singles that can only be copied once onto a
user's computer. Using a new proprietary format called LabelGate, the
CDs will direct the user to Sony's Web site for a payment of 200 yen
if the user tries to copy the contents more than once. Sony says that
all new singles issued from last Wednesday will use the new format
and that albums will adopt the format in April.

Source:
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/030122/1/36qhb.html

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** "Query by Humming" Makes Debut at Cannes

In Brief: In a past issue of MMW, we featured Gracenote's
wave-recognition technology and discussed some of the applications
that development of such technology would make possible. It seems
that one such application was displayed by Germany's Fraunhofer
Institutat at last week's Midem conference in Cannes. Called "Query
by Humming," this application attempts to identify the title and
composer of a song based on the user humming part of the melody into
a microphone. While this application used its own small database of
songs, it is not hard to imagine an application that attempts to
match the hummed melody against huge databases of music such as those
owned by Gracenote.

Source:
http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,57317,00.html

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STAFF
Written by: Steve Myers (steve.myers@l8tech.com)
Steve Myers heads the Theta Group at Layer-8 Technologies,
which specializes in the development of music-related
software applications.

Edited by J@pan Inc editors: (editors@japaninc.com)

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