Microsoft Wants To Put Its Music In Your Mobile
By Eric Lin, Fri Sep 10 23:45:00 GMT 2004

Microsoft hasn't had much luck signing on major handset manufacturers to its smartphone platforms. Now it's trying to talk them into at least supporting Windows Media formats.

Although Apple has primarily relied on the iPod to provide mobile playback for users of its iTunes and ITunes Music Store, it recently signed a deal with Motorola to include a version of iTunes in many of its upcoming handsets. Now that more RAM, storage card slots, and even hard drives are being packed into handsets, it is possible that as with low end digital cameras, the handset will also replace low end media players as well. Apple will let cell phones become low end playback devices while the iPod will continue to appeal to high end users.

Microsoft has licensed Windows Media playback to a number of portable music and multimedia players spanning the entire price range of these devices. So far it has only been able to sign on NEC for a Windows Media support in a few 3G handsets. However Redmond is hot on Apple's heels, trying to sign on big name manufacturers to support Windows Media playback in their mobile phones. Since Apple has grabbed the support of Motorola, Microsoft is targeting Nokia, Siemens and Sony Ericsson. (Who is in talks with Korean powerhouses Samsung and LG?) Microsoft previously had a relationship with Sony's handset division before the merger, which had licensed Microsoft's Mobile Explorer, however it seems obvious that Sony Ericsson would prefer to support Sony's music store by including ATRAC3 support instead of Windows Media.

Support for the Windows Media format will allow users to playback songs purchased from the recently launched MSN Music store on handsets. So far Windows Mobile smartphones are the only phones capable of playing purchased tracks, and even they have limits on where the tracks must be stored so far. Support from a popular handset manufacturer would be a boon to MSN Music. Thanks to its early launch and the popularity of the iPod, iTunes Music Store is currently leading the Internet music business. Despite its dominance in other markets, Microsoft has some catching up to do in both music and phones.

Mobile phone support for Windows Media, Apple's protected AAC tracks or Sony's ATRAC3, will be critical to the growth of any online music business as convergence continues to push more features into handsets. Devices from every major already support playback of mp3 files (and sometimes other formats as well), protected formats are the next step.