Digital Content

Anyone too lazy or too technically illiterate to download music from the internet to their cellphone is being offered a shortcut by Autopage Cellular. Autopage reckons there is a gap in the market for ready-made music downloads and has launched a memory card containing prerecorded music.

The catch is that you have to be a fan of Robbie Williams or Steve Hofmeyr and you have to join the MTN network -- although the music and network choices will widen if the experiment looks promising. MD Stephen Blewett believes the idea is a world first. "This is an important innovation in a market where only a small proportion of the community has access to the internet," he says.

"It allows customers to immediately turn their cellphones into high-quality music players without the cost and inconvenience of getting onto the internet and downloading MP3 files."

With this version, the memory card slots into the cellphone, so the music can be played immediately. The cards can hold the same amount of music as a CD.

Initially the cards will be sold only with a Samsung D820 handset on the MTN MyCall 100 airtime package, for R125 a month. The range of artists will expand as customer demand grows. The content could grow to include video clips.

Most new cellphones have a memory card slot, but one thing hindering the market for prerecorded music or video content is a frustrating lack of conformity between rival manufacturers. Some handsets accept only a specific memory card.

On the other hand, recording companies damaged by falling sales as people download music from the internet could retaliate by releasing genuine, paid-for copies of their music on memory cards for cellphones.

The idea was hatched by Blewett, in partnership with EMI and Allied Mobile, distributes cellphones in Africa.

For this deal, Allied Mobile is supplying the memory chips preloaded with the music. It hopes to supply the whole EMI catalogue in the future, but need to negotiate with each artist separately.

Mark Taylor, MD of the rival cellular service provider Nashua Mobile, congratulates Blewett on the idea but questions its longevity.

By the time deals are struck with different artists and the cards reach the distribution channels, they may have been overtaken by rapid technology changes, he says.

High-speed cellular networks are making it increasingly feasible for handsets to access a proliferation of music sites on the internet and download content directly to the phone, bypassing the need to use a computer at all.

Business Day