Music to Their Ears

With the iPhone set to launch in June, Apple appears set to extend its dominion to music-playing phones. According to a study by mobile market research firm M:Metrics, only 17 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers own a music cell phone (defined as phone capable of music storage and playback). That’s compared with 40 percent in the UK and more than 30 percent in Germany and Italy.

Though the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world, adoption of music phones has grown nearly 400 percent here just in the last year.

The study also found that sideloading — transferring music from a computer to mobile device — is the most popular way to obtain mobile music as consumers balk at downloading from carrier music stores. To help encourage over-the-air downloads, Sprint in April cut its price per song from $2.50 to 99 cents — comparable to what iTunes and other music services charge to download via PC.

But don’t bet on the iPhone to quickly dominate the music phone market, says M:Metrics senior analyst Mark Donovan. He says its $500 price tag and exclusive distribution via Cingular mean the sleek device won’t reach a mass market in 2007. Meanwhile, other carriers are pushing less costly alternatives, such as the Nokia 5300 Xpress Music for $99 through T-Mobile and the Samsung UpStage on Sprint.

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