While a lot of tech analysts watch Apple’s upcoming announcement of a Motorola phone with a built-in iTunes client, allowing for mobile music downloads, KDDI’s AU already launched a similar concept on the Japanese market in November 2004: AU’s 36000-downloads-in-the-first-three-weeks Chaku Uta Full service. The service allows owners of an AU W22SA, W22H, W21CA or W21T mobile phone to purchase downloads of full songs and listen to them on their mobile phone through a special headset or built-in speakers. Format used is MPEG-4 aacPlus (also known as HE AAC), which allows for high quality sound at low bitrates; stores where you can buy Chaku Uta Full include Lmelo, Music.jp et al. Prices are between 210 and 420 Yen per song. Yes, that’s expensive.
However, here is the interesting part—and yep, I’m talking about the DRM.
Page 124 of the W22H manual tells us the device’s miniSD card is CPRM-compatible, meaning that the ways in which you can save certain types of content are constrained. Content with a copyright flag, such as Chaku Uta Full, can only be transfered to a certain encrypted folder on the miniSD card—this probably means you can’t transfer the Chaku Uta Full files you purchased to your computer nor play them on it. Furthermore, as the content in the miniSD card’s encrypted folder is somehow tied to the phone number of the phone it was purchased with, you can only transfer or play it with a phone with that very phone number. It thus becomes possible to transfer DRMed data from your old mobile phone to your new one, considering that you do not switch to another carrier and that you keep your number (= almost always more costly than getting a new number).
So, to summarize: KDDI has launched a quite expensive, but apparently successful service of high-quality and low-bandwidth music downloads that are heavily DRM encumbered, but can be transfered to another mobile phone in case you stick with your carrier and phone number (=expensive).
N.B.: I must say that I’m curious to see if it’s possible to encode your own MPEG-4 aacPlus files (e.g. with the Helix DNA Producer SDK and the AAC add-on package) and transfer them to your mobile phone. The guy in the AU shop told me it wasn’t possible, but I had the impression he didn’t really know what I was talking about; AU’s website and manuals don’t make me any wiser either. If it works, it might well undermine KDDI’s Chaku Uta Full business model. If anybody has a clue, please leave a comment.