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Sony and KDDI announce Walkman mobile phone May 22, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, Mobile, Music.

Sony (or correctly SonyEricsson) is launching a "Walkman" phone on KDDI's "au" carrier.

The W42S, expected to be priced at JPY20,000 (USD180), the phone has 1Gb memory (expandable with upto 4Gb MemoryStick removable memory), which translates to 630 songs at the compression rate the au LISMO music service uses (Though buying 630 songs from LISMO will cost you. At the announced JPY300/song, that's about $1700…)

Sony is trying to take back some of the market Apple's iPod took from them. The phone is touted to have extended battery life as a music player, of up to 30 hours, and features the jog dial found in the Sony Walkman music players and a prominent Walkman logo. With the rumours surrounding a possible Softbank/Apple collaboration resulting in an iPod mobile for Japan, I guess KDDI took the (distant) 2nd best option of tying up with Sony(Ericsson), who already provide handsets to KDDI.

I undestand that LISMO was developed by Sony (or engineers who worked on Sony's attempts at software and infrastructure for on-line/PC based music) in the first place, so this joint marketing seems to be a fairly natural extension of the KDDI/au relationship.
KDDI is pushing its LISMO as a one stop shop for purchasing music on-line, offering both mobile phone and PC access to the site. One feature of note on the PC site is the ability to bill music purchases to your mobile phone account. This may be handy for the many users in Japan who don't have credit cards (especially the younger market). But again, some people (or their parents…) are going to get a nasty shock when they see how expensive the downloads are……

Of course, because the MemoryStick (which means if you don't have VAIO you need to buy an adaptor to connect your MemoryStick to your PC) is removable, you can import songs from your CDs or whatever. Doesn't say if it supports AAC, which would make it easier for iTunes users (even if stuff bought on iTMS won't work).

In sort of related news, For-Side.com, a major content distributor (mostly known as provider of such essentials as ring tones for mobile phones) has announced that they will be setting up an MVNO subsidiary with a focus on music and other content distribution. The reports are that it will be more a music player with communications functionality, than a phone with music player functionality. I'm unconvinced that this is a viable model. But I don't download ringtones or wallpapers for my phone, so perhaps I am detached from the target market.

Related to the MVNO angle, the company is trying to expand into becoming a contents rights owner than just one of many licensees who have to pay royalties to content owners. Still, building a sustainable mass market content business in Japan is no mean task, lots of competition and industry practices which may not be compatible with the operation of a public listed company (especially an upstart)….

Update: In KDDI's press conference announcing the launch of a bunch of new handsets today, they reiterated their message that music was going to be a key feature of au services going forward. 5 new LISMO compatible devices were announced, amongst a total of 7 new models, including a Casio G-Shock rugged/waterproof model.

With the majors pushing music over wireless (Softbank is making noises about integrating its newly purchased carrier (ex-Vodafone Japan) with Yahoo Japan, and Yahoo is another major player in the nascent internet music scene), I reiterate my opinion that non-content-owning MVNOs will have a hard time pushing a multimedia phone proposition to potential customers. I can see how certain targetted MVNOs like Disney or Takara might work, with their brand and content assets – especially targetting the children's market.


1. sL - November 12, 2006

uhmm.. could you tell me how i can import one of these? (i live in canada).. or give me the site (if there is one) please and thanks =)

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