Motorola To Do Windows Media Phones

Today at the 3GSM trade fair in Barcelona, Spain, number two phone maker Motorola announced it has signed an agreement with Microsoft to build music phones built around Microsoft’s Windows Media technology, to compete alongside music phones sporting iTunes software from Apple Computer.

Motorola says the forthcoming music handsets will connect to computers using USB 2.0, and support Windows Media digital rights management (DRM) technology as well as Windows Media Audio, the Windows Media Pro Audio codec, and Media Transfer Protocol (MTP). MTP will enable Windows Media Player to immediately recognize Motorola handsets so users can easily synchronize music between their PCs and phones. Motorola and Microsoft also plan to design handset offering to encourage and facilitate the discovery and (of course!) purchase of music through mobile operators’ 3G data-enabled networks. Motorola anticipates Windows Media-enabled handsets to be available worldwide in the second half of 2006, with support for over-the-air music delivery and WMA Pro in 2007.

“Our relationship with Microsoft is about making the mobile world seamless with the desktop world and allowing consumers to experience music wherever and whenever they want,” said Richard Chin, Motorola’s VP of Global Product Marketing.

“Combining Motorola’s wireless handsets with Windows Media technologies will significantly advance the mobile music experience,” said Amir Majidimehr, Microsoft’s VP of Windows Digital Media. “Motorola’s upcoming handsets with Windows Media will offer consumers and operators worldwide the widest range of high fidelity, no-compromise music choices.”

The move marks another front in competing digital music technologies: Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM and Apple FairPlay DRM are incompatible with each other: Windows Media cannot play songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store (more than 1 billion sold, so far), while Apple’s iPods and Motorola’s existing ROKR and SLVR iTunes-enabled mobile phones can’t play protected WMA music.

However, Motorola’s existing iTunes-enabled phones have not been a runaway success like the iPod, as critics complain of their limited storage capacity (so they don’t compete directly with Apple’s own music players) and inability to browse and purchase music via wireless networks. Mobile operators looking to sell digital music over their networks have turned to Windows Media in no small part because Apple has declined to license its FairPlay DRM technology.

The announcement marks Microsoft’s second major deal with a mobile operator for Windows Media-enabled phones: last year, it entered an agreement with number-one phone maker Nokia, which promised to include Windows Media capabilities on some of its handsets at last year’s 3GSM show. Nokia also plans to support the struggling Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) standard, should it ever be finalized. Motorola also pointed out its deal with Microsoft does not preclude support for OMA, nor does it mark the end of iTunes-enabled Motorola phones: when Windows Media-enabled handsets begin to ship, they may well be side-by-side with Motorola phones supporting iTunes, giving Motorola a foot on two sides of the digital music format wars.