MMW-91 -- The Year of The Music Player Phone

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's music technology news

Issue No. 91
Thursday, December 22, 2005


++ FEATURE: The Year of The Music Player Phone
** DoCoMo Releases Music Porter II
** Vodafone Holding 'Lock On Rock' Auditions
** Yamaha Begins Free Distribution of Latest SMAF Authoring Tool
** New CD Shopping Site for i-mode
** Tao Group Releases Version 2 of SSEYO miniMIXA
** Tower Records Adds New Directors from NTT DoCoMo

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++ FEATURE: The Year of The Music Player Phone

Back in January, we kicked off the year with a review of the three
hottest 'music player phones' available at the time - one handset
each from DoCoMo, KDDI and Vodafone (MMW #69). While each
of these models had some impressive features, there were also
some serious limitations. One phone could only play songs
downloaded over the air. Another could only play songs in
ATRAC3 format. The third could play MP3 files transferred
from a PC, but was not a 3G model. None had an attractive
music player interface, and so on.

As the year 2005 progressed, however, wave after wave of new
'music player' phones hit the market. With each new release,
the combination of features became more impressive while the
limitations became less noticeable. At the same time, the number
of 3G subscribers soared to 40 million and KDDI scored a major
hit with full-song downloads over the air, with 20 million tracks
downloaded in the first ten months of service. Now as we
approach the end of the year, mobile phones in Japan are
beginning to display all of the features needed to function
as a full-fledged digital music player.

Here is a list of features and 'extras' that are now appearing
on most Japanese music player phones:

1. Support for full-song over the air downloads
(still not available on NTT DoCoMo)
2. Support for multiple formats: AAC, MP3, ATRAC3plus, etc.
3. Handsets bundled with CD ripping software and a USB cable
for transfer from PC
4. Songs stored on miniSD memory card (typically 256MB to 1GB in size)
5. Built-in FM Radio Tuner
6. 3D Surround Sound Stereo Speakers
7. Earphone equalizers with settings for rock, jazz, classic, bass, etc.
8. Remote control for music player
9. Able to browse web and read mail on phone while playing music
10. Able to create and organize playlists

Perhaps the biggest development to occur in 2005 was the shift
toward inclusion of CD ripping software with the phones. Also
notable is the vastly increased size of the miniSD memory
cards (DoCoMo's new Music Porter II model can support
a 2GB card). Over the past few months, several prominent
television and print ads have appeared extolling the virtues
of storing and playing music on a mobile phone, and the
general public is becoming increasingly aware of the phone's
capability as a music player. The not so subtle message
conveyed through these ads is 'This phone can do everything
an iPod can do plus a whole lot more.'

Of course, there is still a fairly significant gap between the mobile
phone and a dedicated music player, particularly in storage space
and ease of use. Apple has also had a great year in Japan with
iPod sales and the launch of its iTunes store here. Serious music
fans looking to move to digital are currently going with iPods or
other dedicated players. Still, the gap continues to narrow
with each passing year. In Japan, at least, it's been shown
this year that the mobile phone works just fine for people
who only need their favorite songs with them, and don't want
to mess with a PC, CDs, or other devices and media. Going
a step further, it's safe to say that 2005 was the year that the
music player phone came of age and established itself as
a viable alternative to the dedicated music player.


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** DoCoMo Releases Music Porter II
In brief: On December 19, NTT DoCoMo announced that it would
begin selling its latest 'music phone', Music Porter II, nationwide
on the 22nd. The new model supports four audio formats:
ATRAC3, ATRAC3plus, MP3 and AAC. Songs can be stored
on memory cards of up to 2GB in size. The Music Porter II
also includes a built-in FM radio tuner and comes with CD
ripping software and a USB cable for transferring songs from
PC to phone.

** Vodafone Holding 'Lock On Rock' Auditions
In brief: Vodafone, in conjunction with Tokyo FM and Japan FM
Network (an alliance of 38 FM radio stations), has entered the final
stage of its nationwide 'Lock On Rock' audition project to scout
for new pop/rock artists. On December 4, the field was narrowed
to ten finalists (out of 800 initial entries) to compete for the top
prize, which includes a major recording debut with their song
used in one of Vodafone's commercials. Vodafone users are able
to listen to songs from the finalists and cast their vote using their
phones. Voting ends on January 22.

** Yamaha Begins Free Distribution of Latest SMAF Authoring Tool
In brief: Yamaha Corp. has made its latest SMAF authoring tool
available for free download. The tool is called 'ATS-MA7-SMAF'
and can be used to make 64-voice polyphonic ringtones with 3D
surround sound.

** New CD Shopping Site for i-mode
In brief: In partnership with Daiki Sound, ISAO has started an
online CD shopping service for i-mode. The site offers about 10,000
CD titles for sale from Daiki Sound and allows users to sample
songs before ordering CDs. The service supports credit card and
COD payment, and is expected to launch on EZweb and
Vodafone live in the middle of January 2006.

** Tao Group Releases Version 2 of SSEYO miniMIXA
In brief: Tao Group recently announced the availability of its mobile
mixer SSEYO miniMIXA version 2. The 'SE' version of miniMIXA 2
is free to download and allows users to create and mix their own
ringtones using up to 12 tracks. A premium version of miniMIXA
2 with an advanced feature set is also available at a price of $20
to $40 depending on the device.

** Tower Records Adds New Directors from NTT DoCoMo
In brief: Tower Records Japan announced a change in directors
at an extraordinary general meeting of stockholders
on December 14. Two directors had resigned in November,
and two outside directors, Takeshi Natsuno and Atsushi Hirano,
both from NTT DoCoMo, were installed.

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Written by: Steve Myers