Music app takes aim at iPhone

With Apple's dynamic iPhone set to be released into the North American market this month, competitors are desperately seeking an alternative for wireless users and music lovers. Srivats Sampath, CEO of Mercora Inc, a software company based in California's Silicon Valley, thinks he has one: a subscription service available anywhere that gives mobile phone users access to their own digital music libraries; the music collection of up to five friends, as well 100,000 customized channels of digital radio. Mercora's new application also provides one-click access to podcasts from CNN, National Public Radio and other news and sports content providers.

Sampath's Mercora Mv2, which was released in March, is optimized for Windows Mobile.

Sampath says versions for Symbian and Linux will be released by August. For a subscription fee of $5 per month (or $50 per year), Windows Mobile users in the US and Europe can access the music service on smartphones. The service is compatible with 3G and higher broadband mobile networks such as EDGE, EV-DO, UMS and HSDPA.

The Mv2 service is available in the US, UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Sampath says it is likely to be introduced into Asian markets soon. 'We are having serious discussions with leading mobile carriers in Singapore, Indonesia and Japan,' he said. 'We are also talking with device manufacturers in Taiwan and Japan that are interested in embedding the application into their mobile devices.'

In the US and European markets, Sampath says carriers such as T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T-Cingular, Orange and Vodafone generate revenue from the service either by charging for per-minute data access or with flat-charge plans, receiving 20% to 30% of the service revenue, depending on the subscription service chosen.

Streaming Radio

Mercora already offers a companion service called IMRadio that streams music from web-based individual radio stations around the world. The service, which is free, allows users to webcast their favorite music legally since Mercora manages compliance with copyright laws and pays music royalties from advertising fees. Users download a player from Mercora and can search, find and listen to thousands of personalized stations around the world. They can also cache their own music collections on the company's servers and listen on the web, webcast the material or share it with friends. The system essentially is peer-to-peer music sharing. Sampath estimates the service currently has 1.3 million 'citizen DJs' including many in Asia. 'Our top DJ is from China, ad we have others in Japan and Singapore,' he says.

Sampath adds that the imminent introduction of the iPhone has actually helped spur interest in Mercora's own M service for mobile phones. 'When Apple made its announcement, every carrier started scrambling to devise its own strategy,' he says. 'The Mercora M is an attractive alternative. Everyone is looking at how to create a more compelling product than the iPhone, and being able to offer a social music player is a serious option.'

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