Motorola Linux phones to get RealOne Player

RealNetworks now has deals with all of the top four handset makers

Motorola Inc., the world's second largest mobile phone maker, will use the RealNetworks Inc. RealOne Player in some of its phones, RealNetworks said Tuesday.

Motorola's licensing agreement covers any operating system it chooses to develop phones on, but initially RealNetworks and Motorola will focus on Linux-based handsets aimed at the consumer mass market, said Ian Freed, vice president for mobile products and services at Seattle-based RealNetworks.

"We are working on a specific handset together, one of the first in a family of Linux-based handsets from Motorola," he said. RealNetworks and Motorola plan to announce the agreement Wednesday at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) event in Las Vegas.

Motorola, of Schaumburg, Illinois, said in February that it would launch a mobile phone this year that supports Java and runs a special version of Linux developed by Sunnyvale, California-based MontaVista Software Inc.

After the agreement with Motorola, RealNetworks has deals with all of the top four handset makers, accounting for almost 70 percent of handsets sold worldwide. Nokia Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Siemens AG, the largest, third-largest and fourth-largest mobile phone makers, respectively, have already selected RealNetworks' software.

RealNetworks also announced an agreement in June with mobile operator Vodafone Group PLC, which will use RealNetworks' software to distribute audio and video content to users of its Vodafone Live wireless data service. 

However, it is early days for multimedia on mobile phones, RealNetworks' Freed said. The company expects between 50 million and 100 million "multimedia handsets" to be sold next year, which would be a minority of all handsets sold. In 2002, 423 million mobile phones were sold, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

Also, mobile networks need to be upgraded for video streaming to work well on mobile phones, Freed said. Many operators have planned or are in the process of doing those upgrades.

Motorola really did not have much choice, said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing with Gartner, in San Jose, California. "I think it was kind of a fait accompli" because there are simply no viable alternatives, he said.

The key is access to content, according to Dulaney. Content providers generally encode their audio and video in RealNetworks' and Microsoft Corp.'s formats, but Microsoft sticks to its own operating environment when it comes to player software.

Media players are crucial on smart phones. They are one of the first applications people use to access stored or streaming audio and video, said Dulaney, who uses a Treo 600 from Handspring Inc. with RealNetworks' media player.

The mobile version of RealNetworks' RealOne Player is available for Linux, OpenWave, Palm and Symbian, four of the main mobile phone operating systems.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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