Just when you thought cell phones had everything, engineers at Sharp Corp. and Toshiba Corp. have come up with new handsets that can double as portable karaoke machines.
The phones are some of the first that can be connected to an external display, in this case a television set, so that users don’t have to crowd around the phone’s small display. It’s this capability and a new service from Vodafone K.K. called V-kara that makes possible the karaoke function.
Users of the V602SH and V601T phones can download karaoke files from the Vodafone Live mobile Internet service. With the television connection the words to the song plus a simple animation appear on the screen and the melody through the speakers. The handset can then be used as the microphone with the singer’s voice also coming out of the television.
Vodafone already offers a number of karaoke files for download through Vodafone Live, although users have been restricted to playing them on the handset screen and singing out loud to themselves and whoever is in the vicinity. The new phones can be used in that fashion as well, although by connecting them to a TV they offer an experience much closer to that of a home karaoke machine.
Prices for the new service have not yet been announced but the current karaoke files cost around US$0.35 per song or can be bought in packs of 20 songs a month, said Vodafone. The downloaded files can be saved to the handset and used multiple times for no extra cost.
The first of the two telephones to go on sale was the V602SH, which hit Japanese store shelves in mid-June.
The V601T is expected to go on sale in the middle of this month.
Whether karaoke will follow mobile Internet, picture messaging and high-quality ringtones as the next smash hit on the Japanese cellular scene won’t be known until later this year. There are, however, a couple of early signs that point to at least some audience for the service.
At Business Show 2004, where Vodafone first unveiled the handset to the public, the area of the company’s booth where the service was being demonstrated was packed with curious visitors. Employees of Vodafone, who have had access to the handset during testing, have also been enthusiastic, said Matthew Nicholson, a spokesman for the company.
Karaoke is a popular leisure activity in Japan for many such as young people, who often visit dedicated karaoke houses and spend hours belting out the latest pop hits, and the stressed “salaryman,” who sings away his blues on a machine at one of the nation’s many mom-and-pop bars.
In 2002 there were 477,000 licensed karaoke machines in bars, hotels and karaoke rooms across the country and they attracted 48 million customers, according to the latest data from the All Japan Karaoke Industries Association. Total revenue from the machines was US$7.3 billion as of the last day of 2002.