Mobile music gauntlet goes down

The battle for mobile music market share started in earnest in the UK on Thursday, as both Vodafone and Nokia unveiled their offerings.

Vodafone has struck an exclusive agreement with mobile music shop Omnifone to offer unlimited track downloads, straight to the mobile, for just £1.99 per week.

The MusicStation platform, which launched Thursday, gives users the opportunity to download tracks from Universal Music, Sony BMG, EMI Music and Warner Music direct to their handsets and works on forthcoming as well as existing Vodafone UK 2.5G and 3G mobiles.

MusicStation automatically stores a user’s favourite tracks on the phone’s internal or removable memory. So whilst some phones can store thousands of tracks, others store less than one hundred. The platform uses the memory allocated on the phone to store the customer’s favourite and about-to-be-played music, so that users can listen to their favourite tracks when in Flight Safe mode and have access to the full catalogue when connected to a 2.5G or 3G network.

Downloaded MusicStation tracks and user playlists are stored centrally off the handset, so that if a customer’s mobile is stolen, lost or upgraded, the replacement handset will automatically restore the customer’s music, playlists, friends and preferences the first time MusicStation is switched on.

Rob Lewis, chief executive of Omnifone, said that the service would be available on 13 Vodafone sold devices at launch and would be available on 30 handsets by Christmas, including the BlackBerry.

Setting the offering in direct competition to Apple’s forthcoming iPhone in the UK, Lewis said that on a monthly Vodafone tariff costing £43.62, customers could get a free phone such as LG’s forthcoming tough screen Viewty, as well as 500 minutes, 1000 texts and unlimited music downloads. This compares to the iPhone which costs £269, when bundled with 600 mins and 500 SMS for £45 per month, without any music included.

Tackling the ugly reality of illegal file sharing head on, Rob Wells, senior vice president of digital for Universal Music Group International, admitted that there had been “a lot of pain for the music industry in the transition to digital.” But he said that all you can eat music download services should help spur growth, given that Omnifone’s offering even supports the sharing of music between members.

And taking to task the “myopic” argument that “users don’t get anything for their money once they unsubscribe” – the MusicStation service won’t let users play content once they stop paying for it – Wells said that for all the time they do subscribe, users have access to millions of tracks for less than £8 per month.

Finnish vendor Nokia also stepped up its push into the service space with the launch of its UK-based Nokia Music Store on Thursday. The company will make millions of tracks from major artists and independent labels available alongside interactive features such as personal track recommendations and a favourite artists search and discovery function.

Users will be able to access the Nokia Music Store via their desktop computer or directly from Nokia devices beginning with the Nokia N81 and Nokia N95 8GB, both of which launch alongside the music shop.

Individual tracks will cost 80p per track and albums start at £8.00. The store will also offer a monthly subscription for PC streaming for £8.00.

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