A cellphone that can store as much music as Apple's popular iPod Mini MP3 player will be launched by Nokia later in 2005.
The move follows Sony-Ericsson's unveiling in March of a music-storing "Walkman" phone and marks another nail in the coffin for pure MP3 players. Cellphone makers are betting that people will prefer to carry one gadget rather than two.
Like the basic iPod Mini, Nokia's new phone incorporates a diminutive 4-gigabyte hard disc drive capable of storing at least 3000 music tracks. By comparison the first Walkman phone - the W800, also to be released later in 2005 - will store about 150 tracks on a 0.5 gigabyte flash-memory card.
"But users can buy their own 2 gigabyte memory cards and store almost 1000 songs," says a Sony-Ericsson spokesman. "And remember this is only the first Walkman phone, we will be launching more with greater storage."
Apple has already struck a deal with US phone and chip maker Motorola to jointly create an "iPod phone" capable of interfacing easily with Apple's iTunes music purchasing and track management service, but the relationship has yet to bear fruit.
Nokia's N91 phone was launched in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on Wednesday, where vice-president of multimedia, Anssi Vanjoki described it as a "connected mobile jukebox".
A version with a 3G connection will be available to allow the wireless downloading of music - an approach proving popular in Japan - while the standard GSM phone will use a computer and USB connection. Like the Sony-Ericsson W800, the N91 has a 2-megapixel camera built in.
Hard disc drives are being incorporated into small-scale consumer products very rapidly, thanks to research - carried out by firms like Hitachi and Samsung which is shrinking disc size.
But there are disadvantages. The spinning discs make for increasingly power-hungry gadgets, notes Carl Franklin, technology analyst with the stockbroker Bridgewell Securities in London, UK. "Once your phone is running a hard drive your battery lifetime could suffer. That's going to be a major challenge for Nokia's engineers."
“Active working time”
In early tests, Vanjoki says the N91 gave five hours of "active working time", with the phone, music and camera functions frequently used. "Old terms like ‘standby’ power and ’talk time’ are just not applicable concepts anymore because the phones are doing too many other things," he adds.
Sony's W800, based on flash memory - which has no moving parts - offers between 15 and 30 hours of battery life, depending on how often the phone and music player are used simultaneously.
The N91 was one of three multimedia-heavy phones launched by Nokia, all of which stick with the Symbian Series 60 smartphone operating system. One of the other handsets - the N90 - uses a Carl Zeiss lens to improve the quality of camera images users.