Cingular Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. mobile provider, has started offering its customers the SLVR, an ultra-thin phone from Motorola Inc. (MOT) loaded with the popular iTunes music-playing software from Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL), the companies said on Tuesday.
The SLVR takes its cue from Motorola's hit-selling RAZR cell phone, and is the company's second take on a device that includes Apple's music software.
Cingular already sells the ROKR, Motorola's first iTunes music phone, which disappointed some fans of Apple's iPod music player and Motorola's flagship Razr phone as it resembled neither.
Music is seen in the wireless industry as one of the hottest new cell-phone features as service providers aim to attract new subscribers and boost revenue with services beyond voice.
Motorola, which had said it was disappointed with how the ROKR phone was marketed, plans to focus more on the design than the music player in marketing the candy bar-shaped SLVR.
"The first thing that's going to attract people to this phone is the form factor," said Steve Lalla, Motorola's general manager for mass-market products. "We think it's going to start with the design, and consumers will double-click to look deeper at the features."
Cingular is charging customers who sign up for a two-year contract $199.99 for the phone.
Cingular, which enjoyed a sales boost as the first U.S. provider to sell the RAZR at the end of 2004, has a similar agreement to be the only U.S. operator to sell the SLVR for an undisclosed period.
Cingular, unlike its biggest rivals, Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) and Verizon Wireless, does not yet has a service that offers wireless music downloads. To use the music feature, consumers would need to transfer songs from their computer via cable.
But while Cingular has been behind these rivals in the development of high-speed networks for advanced services such as music and video downloads, it has been able, on occasion, to secure new devices earlier because of the network technology it uses.
The SLVR currently works only on networks based on GSM, the world's most popular cell-phone-technology standard, which is used by Cingular and European and Asian operators.
Verizon Wireless, which uses CDMA wireless technology, waited about a year before it began selling the RAZR.
But Motorola's upcoming Q phone and e-mail device, whose tiny computer-like keyboard makes sending e-mails easier, is expected to be launched on a CDMA network first. GSM users will have to wait.
Analysts expect Verizon Wireless will be first to sell the Q and note that its high-speed network would be more suitable for downloading e-mails than the Cingular network.
Motorola's Lalla said the company plans to expand the SLVR, which is already being sold in several European countries, beyond GSM technology but did not give a time frame.