Movies coming soon to a mobile phone near you

Improved hardware will help services take off, analyst says

Offering movies is the latest thing some vendors are trying to lure users as the battle for mobile phone buyers becomes more challenging.

On Thursday, struggling mobile phone manufacturer Sony Ericsson said it will offer free movies as a bonus with some of its upcoming models.

It is not alone: Samsung in Europe is also selling movies to its mobile phone users, and direct downloads of TV shows and movies to the iPhone is a rumored feature of the upcoming software update for that device.

"On the content side I think the whole area of TV, video and movies is starting to generate more interest, and there is a drive by the handset manufacturers to enable service offerings on their devices to make them more attractive," said Paolo Pescatore, analyst at CCS Insight.

Adding movies is a natural step after making music and games available on mobile phones, and users are clamoring for more content, said Sony Ericsson Nordic public-relations manager Gustaf Brusewitz.

Using Sony's PlayNow Arena store, people will get to pick from about 15 movies, and up to 60 movies can be downloaded during a 12-month period. Approximately four titles will be added and removed from the catalog each month to keep the content fresh, according Brusewitz.

Movies are first downloaded to a PC and then moved to the mobile phone -- so called sideloading. They can be watched as often as the users wants for up to 90 days. However, using DRM (digital rights management), Sony Ericsson will prevent the movie from being watched on more than one phone.

The reason for not getting operators and their mobile networks involved is simplicity. Using sideloading, users won't have to think about which data package they have, Brusewitz said.

PlayNow Arena with movies will make its debut on the W995 Walkman, launching in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.K. in June. Sony Ericsson will also preload the W995 with BBC's iPlayer in the U.K.

Improved hardware will help movies on mobile phones become a success, according to Carolina Milanesi, research director at Gartner. Current and upcoming mobile phones -- with larger and better screens and more storage capacity -- are better suited for movie viewing, compared to phones sold a couple of years ago, Milanesi said.

For example, the Sony Ericsson Satio comes with 3.5-inch touchscreen display. Movies can be stored on an 8GB memory card, which is included.

Sony Ericsson introduced the phone at Mobile World Congress under the code name Idou and provided more device details on Thursday.

Another newcomer in the Sony Ericsson line-up is the Aino. It has a 3-inch screen, and comes with an 8GB memory card.

Both phones will include the PlayNow Arena with movies and ship in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Pricing, and where they will be available, weren't announced.

Another movie-friendly phone is the Samsung Omnia HD, which goes on sale in Europe in a few weeks. It has a 3.7-inch touchscreen display and can store up to 32GB using built-in storage and the memory slot.

As is always the case in mobile, when one vendor jumps the other follow, said Pescatore. Consumers will get to pick from not just a range of cool devices, but also more movie and TV services.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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