Sprint launches phone-centric music store

The Wall Street Journal has published a review of Sprint's new, direct-to-cell-phone music store that's worth checking out, particularly if you're interested in combining your phone and MP3 players. According to the article, Sprint's service sports a well-designed interface, and downloads are quite quick (assuming you live in one of the limited areas where broadband is available). However, Sprint has apparently decided to price its service at a whopping $2.50 per song. The costs and limitations, unfortunately, don't stop there.

The service is only available on high-end phones that currently sell for over $200. If you want more than 32 songs, you'll have to spring for a new memory card, which, as the article points out, can add anywhere from $25-$100 to the final bill. The plan that allows for music store access is at least $15 per month, and you can only play your downloaded songs on one phone. Songs can't be transferred directly from the phone to a PC, though you can download music you've purchased via phone. Once downloaded, however, you can only play back on three separate PCs, and no iPod support is offered. The final blow is Sprint's library size: only 250,000 songs.

There's no denying that the cell phone market has tremendous potential as a growth medium for digital music sales. As impressive as Apple's iPod sales have been (over 28 million to date, including 6.2 million in Apple's third fiscal quarter of 2005), the mobile handset market dwarfs the iPod’s. Over 31 million handsets were sold during the third quarter of 2005. Current research indicates that two-thirds of US households own at least one cell phone. The market is obviously there, but cell phone companies are going to have to find a more attractive product mixture. Given Sprint's current service, I don't think they'll be tearing up iTunes' sales records anytime soon.

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