Motorola makes music with iRadio

Motorola Inc. officially took the wraps off its iRadio subscription music service Tuesday, making the service available to U.S. wireless carriers. Subscribers should be able to access iRadio sometime during the first half of this year, according to a Motorola spokesman, although the exact timing for that launch will be made by the wireless carriers.

IRadio allows a listener to tune into an initial 435 commercial-free Internet radio channels as well as their own personal music collection. The service uses a high-speed Internet connection, Bluetooth technology, a PC running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP operating system and a special iRadio-enabled mobile phone equipped with a storage card and Java software. Also required are Bluetooth accessories, including an adapter for home stereos and a wireless car kit that is compatible with 85 percent of today’s car stereos.

Motorola is demonstrating the iRadio service on a number of iRadio-enabled phones, including its own Rokr E2 device, at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) taking place in Las Vegas this week. Although the company has been providing sneak peeks of the service for much of the past year, Tuesday is the first time Motorola has provided specific details on iRadio, according to Paul Alfieri, a company spokesman. Motorola expects a subscription to the service to be priced between US$7 and $10 per month.

The 435 radio channels include rock, jazz and country music as well as themed channels like “one-hit wonders” or particular genres such as music from the 1980s. Motorola has plans to offer many more channels in future, according to Alfieri. Since the stations are being delivered over the Internet and then synched to the phone, there’s a limitless supply of bandwidth available, he said.

If a user stops a song at a particular point when running iRadio on a home stereo, Motorola said the tune can be restarted at the same point when the user gets into their car. The same thing applies when a call comes through on a phone while a user is listening to music. The music is automatically paused and once the call is finished the music will resume at the same point. Music or talk programs are cached on to the cell phone for one-time play. Once listened to, they’re erased.

While Motorola is making iRadio available to U.S. carriers now, the company plans to demonstrate the service in France later this month at the Midem music show in Cannes and then launch the service internationally later this year.

Motorola is hoping that new music and spoken word artists sign up to use channels free of charge in its iRadio Get Heard Network, a digitally protected distribution channel, as a way to get their work heard. The artists can register with SoundExchange Inc., a nonprofit performance rights organization, to get paid for their music, according to Alfieri.

In October, Motorola announced a partnership with Universal Music Group, with the record label committing to make its music catalog available for iRadio.

IRadio will face a number of competitors, including XM Satellite Radio and radio services from both America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Given that car manufacturers are already including satellite radio services in their new vehicle models, Motorola is looking to strengthen its ties with automakers, according to Alfieri. The company is likely to make announcements later this year on this front, he added.

Motorola already has a relationship with Apple Computer Inc. running Apple’s iTunes music distribution service on the first generation of its Rokr cell phone. That partnership appeared a little shaky after Apple’s iPod Nano drew much of the attention during a simultaneous launch in September of both the tiny Apple music player and Motorola’s Rokr. That event led to a public outburst from Ed Zander, Motorola’s chairman and chief executive officer, as he told attendees at an event later in September: “Screw the nano. What the hell does the nano do? Who listens to 1,000 songs?”

With Apple so fond of using the “i” prefix to name its products from the iMac to the iPod, is iRadio another poke at that company? No, the iRadio name is “completely coincidental,” according to Alfieri. In fact, Motorola has owned the name since the mid-1990s, he said. Back in 2000 at the CES show, Motorola announced iRadio Telematics System, technology designed to deliver music and information to drivers via the Internet. Over time, the project morphed into today’s iRadio service, the Motorola spokesman added.

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