MWC - 'Modu' mobile can transform into a new phone

A mobile phone debuting Thursday, the Modu, has interchangeable jackets that enable it to be dramatically changed in seconds.

A mobile phone debuting Thursday, the Modu, combines futuristic cues from the robot-morphing "Transformers" show with the snappy appeal of Legos.

Rather than buying a new mobile phone every couple years, a person can just slide a new "jacket," or external casing, over the core phone, said Itay Sherman, chief technology officer for Modu, the Israeli company behind its namesake device.

Modu, the brainchild of USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive inventor Dov Moran, will be on display next week at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

Modu, which can be used to make calls minus a jacket, will cost around 200 Euros. A jacket will cost 20 to 60 Euros each. A jacket contains its own configuration file that enables it to display strikingly different graphic and color schemes on its own screen while connected to the underlying Modu.

"You can completely change the way the phone looks," said Sherman, adding that a QWERTY keyboard could be an option for business users.

Operators think the concept will allow them to keep subscribers longer. Modu said on Thursday it has struck deals with Telecom Italia and VimpelCom, Russia's second-largest operator, which are expected to start selling the device by October.

But much bigger plans for Modu are in the works. The company is encouraging other manufacturers to create compatible devices -- or "mates" -- that can use Modu's data and applications. In turn, the devices can use Modu's cellular connectivity, Sherman said.

For example, a GPS (Global Positioning System) could display maps for addresses that a user has saved on Modu. A home cordless phone could display numbers and other address book information when a Modu is plugged into its base. A car's speaker system could be used to amplify phone calls while someone is driving.

So far Modu says it is working with Magellan Navigation and stereo-maker Blaupunkt, part of Bosch. The first mates should come out in 2009, Sherman said.

Modu has attracted others interested in marketing opportunities centered around the jackets. Also on Thursday, Modu said Universal Music Group will develop jackets with preloaded content from its artists and music-themed designs.

The Modu is a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) quad-band phone that weighs 1.5 ounces and is 0.3 inches thick without a jacket.

The first-generation Modu will have 1G byte of flash memory, roughly enough for 240 songs. So far, Modu does not have any agreements with music download services, Sherman said.

Modu has a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) radio, Sherman said. In the first half of 2009, a 3G (third-generation) model should be available, which would allow faster download speeds, he said.

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Jeremy Kirk

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