At a press conference in Amsterdam this weekend, Nokia launched a new service, Comes With Music. As the name suggests, it's all about music. The promise is that customers buying a compatible handset from Nokia get a year of unlimited downloads from a huge catalogue of tunes. More interesting still is that the music is yours to keep even after the year-long subscription ends.
It's worth noting that the only major label on board to begin with is Universal, a company not known for its support of DRM-free music. True, it provides AmazonMP3 with a DRM-free selection, but it's a far cry from EMI offering its entire catalogue in DRM-free form. So we assume this music will be DRM'd to hell. There's no mention of prices or subscription costs either, or any mention of a fair-use policy -- a term companies like to use when offering 'unlimited' packages.
So what's the deal?
Well, from the press release, this is what we're to assume about Comes With Music: Nokia will bundle a yearly subscription with new handsets that allows customers to download as many songs as humanly possible in one year, both to a handset and a PC. These songs are protected, but will still play after you stop paying the subscription. With no mention of a fair-use policy, users are able to download Universal songs 24/7 if they like and keep their downloads for years to come.
However, this is what we believe the service will be: Nokia will bundle a yearly subscription with new handsets that allows customers to download limited numbers of songs as long as they pay their subscription. These songs can be transferred to a PC only after they're downloaded via a handset. Customers will be subject to either data charges per song, or the network will provide a limited amount of data usable by the service in any given month -- even if Nokia offers truly unlimited downloads, it's highly unlikely the networks will support 24/7 downloading.
Whatever the truth behind the new service, it's certainly one to watch. Mobile downloading has a huge future -- a hugely profitable future -- but only if it's done right. Nokia says it's striking deals with the other major labels, but until it does, and until we know what 'unlimited downloads' truly means in Nokia's eyes, we'll remain sceptical. -Nate Lanxon
Update: Our bodacious half-naked man in the field, Andrew "phones are for lovers" Lim, is out in Amsterdam with Nokia and has kindly filled us in on some details.
Firstly, the Comes With Music deal will come with a new phone -- possibly a whole new handset, possibly the N81 -- that'll be launched in the middle of next year. Also, 'unlimited' really does mean unlimited -- you can download every song possible in one year if you want, either via your phone network, over Wi-Fi or via the Web on your PC. Seriously.
Downloads will be in protected WMA format, but a bit rate hasn't been disclosed, so we're still in the dark there. There's also, apparently, no massive fee for the service -- it's simply something that will come with this new handset and there's nothing extra to pay for the year.
Now, Universal signing up to this unlimited deal is one thing. But if the other three majors get on board too this could truly be the best mobile, hell, best PC-based subscription service ever -- the songs are yours to keep. Permanently. Forever.
We can't deny our mouths are moistened with true excitement.