Motorola Makes a Little Noise to Kick Off CES

Motorola clearly intends to try again at a cell phone music device, this time turning to its own new iRadio service and parting ways withApple, its partner last year on the largely unsuccessful ROKR phone-MP3 player handset. Motorola also has partnered with Oakley on a pair of ROKR shades.

Motorola’s announcement, which came as tech industry giants gathered today for this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, met with some skepticism from analysts, although wireless technologies, particularly better mobile connectivity within offices and homes, are likely to be a big part of the show this year.

“One of the areas where I see a lot of activity is in-building wireless coverage,” DataComm president Ira Brodsky told TechNewsWorld, referring to announcements from Intel and other players on WiFi, Bluetooth and other wireless technologies and improvements.

Moto Music

As for Motorola, the company said its new iRadio subscription music service would allow users to take songs to their car, throughout the home, or on the go with their cell phones. Similar to satellite radio services from XM and Sirius, Motorola will offer 435 commercial-free radio channels — and give the content portability — for about US$7 per month.

The service will offer more choice and higher audio quality than satellite radio, Motorola vice president and general manager of digital media services Mike Gaumond claimed.

The iRadio service will allow top-rated talk content and custom music channels for customers who are on the subway, at the market or elsewhere, noted Clear Channel Radio executive vice president Jeff Littlejohn.

Motorola will also offer an array of optional Bluetooth accessories for iRadio, including headphones, and home and car kits.

A Different Tune

Motorola’s new iRadio and the new ROKR devices are a manifestation of the market that satellite radio has found, said DataComm’s Brodsky. It will likely take a lot of experimentation from wireless providers, handset makers and content companies to get it right, he added, but music and media on mobile phones may eventually be standard.

“With a cell phone, people expect over time that the cost will come down and that it will be available for free with other services,” he said.

While Motorola has traditionally provided services to promote its hardware, it usually hands off the service to another company that provides it, Brodsky indicated.

“Here, they’re getting into a service somebody else has already created,” he said, referring to Apple’s iTunes. “It’s not for sure what their long-term bet is — do they think they can make money from the service? Or is this to ensure their phones get a big part of the opportunity?”

Consumers Take Over Wireless

People are moving away from land-line phones as mobile options get better, said Brodsky, and wireless coverage inside must become as ubiquitous as mobile coverage.

What wireless vendors must do — and what Motorola is doing with its latest announcements — is position themselves for “content consumption across the board,” Yankee Group senior analyst John Jackson told TechNewsWorld.

Wireless providers will be reluctant to buy into any particular content distribution platform, such as iTunes, he said, adding that Motorola’s approach is “prudent.”

With more and improved wireless technology making its way to mass market consumers, Jackson sees CES replacing what previously were the biggest wireless industry trade shows.

“It becomes much, much bigger than just wireless,” he said.

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