September 25, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Streaming music for smart phones

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Though discussion has lately revolved around whether Microsoft will elbow Apple Computer off its lofty perch in the portable music sector, a mobile software maker is trying to position itself as a threat to both.

The 3-year-old Internet radio service Mercora on Monday introduced "M," the first wireless, over-the-air mobile media application for smart phones. The software gives phones running Windows Mobile 5.0 the ability to play music wirelessly from a PC without compromising sound quality.

Mercora's M

The company's president and CEO Srivats Sampath said he believes the service will give the two computing giants a run for their money.

"We've beat Steve Jobs to the iPhone. Our software delivers all the same capabilities. And we've beat Microsoft to the Zune," said Sampath, because the device lets users share music wirelessly.

Those are pretty sweeping statements from Sampath, who is also the former CEO of McAfee. And analysts say that though it may be true, actually prying music lovers away from their favorite MP3 player will be hard with a niche as small as smart phones, which have about a 2 percent penetration rate in the U.S.

Mercora's M works by giving subscribers access to their digital music library--only WMA, MP3 or Ogg Vorbis formatted files--from any location via their phone. The software encodes and decodes all files to Ogg Vorbis, a low bit-rate format of near CD quality, before it reaches the earphones. Sounds cool, but forget about playing songs bought from Apple's iTunes Store--Apple uses a proprietary format called AAC, which Mercora M can't play. Music ripped from a CD to an iTunes library, though, is fair game, according to Avikk Ghose, Mercora's director of business development.

Because the files are not carried on the phone, storage is limited only by the size of the computer on which they are kept. This means there is no need to sync or update any device with a music library. With a dedicated portable music player, however, users' songs must be downloaded to a computer hard drive and manually synced with the player. In addition, M lets subscribers tune into 100,000 Internet radio stations, searchable by about a thousand genres and sub-genres.

"The next generation of music players is going to be a phone. It's not going to be a dedicated device."
--Srivats Sampath, Mercora CEO

The all-you-can-eat fee of $4.99 a month or $49.99 for a year of M is "very competitive," according to Richard Doherty, research director of the Envisioneering Group. It's the same as the fee for Yahoo Music, a flat-rate, unlimited model for downloads from Yahoo's music store to a PC.

Mercora's Sampath thinks he's got Microsoft beat with his software that goes beyond the forthcoming Zune music player. Microsoft has taken pains to emphasize its player's niftiest feature: sharing certain songs with other Zune users within wireless range. But those songs can't be re-shared.

Mercora cuts through the Zune's limitations by letting an M subscriber log on to the home music libraries of up to five other people anywhere in the world. Of course, their permission must be granted. Mercora has also taken pains to make sure no wires are necessary, ever. Any of the songs can be broadcast with Bluetooth over a car stereo or in a home entertainment center.

Mercora's founder says his inspiration for M came from Europe's 3G broadband network. While most European phones don't have enough storage for music files, they've been using a robust data connection that sends more information (a phone call and downloaded data like e-mail, music, pictures or video) more quickly. Sampath noted that most Europeans were simply sending and receiving e-mail, which he thought was "a waste of a network." Music files, he thought, would be a perfect application.

CONTINUED: A drag on bandwidth?…
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See more CNET content tagged:
Mercora, Internet radio, Microsoft Zune, Ogg Vorbis, subscriber


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Add your comment
Why Pay $4.99 a month?
I can already stream music to my WM5.0 phone using ORB for free!
Posted by dclaryjr (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS should buy the radio station and offer free music and add advitisement
MS should buy the radio station and offer free music and add advitisement
Posted by fc11 (48 comments )
Link Flag
Will fail
First problem is that most (if not all) smartphones will not allow you to receive a call while you are connected to a data network. So if you're streaming music with Mercora and someone calls, you get a busy signal. If I'm playing music with local songs on a storage card I can receive phone calls.

Plus who want to pay for this service? For $50 I can buy a 2GB storage card and larger capacities are available. Plus you can buy more than one storage card to carry around, they are tiny so the 2GB is too small argument carries no weight (literally) when you can carry as many storage cards with you as you want.
Posted by ballssalty (219 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Will fail
actually, this isn't quite true.

when an incoming call comes in on a WM5.0 phone, the music stops and the call is announced. the user can then decide whether to pick up or ignore the call.

secondly, of course you can carry as many storage cards as you want, but not everyone will want to do this. also, cards don't give you access to all of the internet radio stations.
Posted by dg1964-20641623766489280533517 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Why do it at all...
on your cell phone?
When the car breaks down or you need to reach the baby sitter or dial 911, your battery will be dead from listening to music on a third rate unit, when you could have been listening on a decent player, using up the player's battery and saving your phone for, of all things, calling someone!
Posted by El Kabong (100 comments )
Reply Link Flag
solution to batery problem
Cell phone will refuse to play music when there is only 20% batery left
Posted by fc11 (48 comments )
Link Flag
Is There Any Editor Here That Checks Facts...
"Apple uses a proprietary format called AAC, which Mercora M can't play."

AAC IS NOT a proprietary format. It's an open format. Apple's Fairplay DRM which is wrapped around files purchased from the iTunes music store is proprietary!

You think that by now everyone would know this.
Posted by (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I doubt you know how the wrapper works.
The important thing is, Apple's music files are encoded.
Posted by just_chilin (3 comments )
Link Flag

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