updated 03:25 pm EDT, Mon March 26, 2007
Sprint UpStage and Store
Sprint today launched a two-pronged assault on Apple's still unreleased iPhone by releasing both a new phone and an aggressive new music strategy. Confirming earlier leaks, the UpStage is intended to be music-friendly without sacrificing calling ability, as one side features a larger screen and controls for music or videos and the other holds a 1.3-megapixel camera, the more traditional cellphone keypad, and a basic display. Up to 2GB of music can be stored on a microSD card. New in the official announcement is news of a unique battery wallet: inserting the UpStage into the case both guards it against damage and boosts talk time to 6.3 hours, Sprint says. The carrier plans to bundle the UpStage with a 64MB microSD card when it ships in early April at a price of $149 with a two-year service plan.
More aggressive still, however, is the company's online initiative. In a simultaneous announcement, the provider has revealed that the Sprint Music Store is more than halving the price of its music downloads. Subscribers to the company's data plans will have the option of buying music directly from their phones at 99 cents per song -- the lowest price ever for a wireless music store, Sprint says. The service will still let owners receive a second copy of a song for their PCs and is matched by Sprint's new Music Manager tool for quickly copying a PC's songs to the UpStage and other phones through USB.
The new prices will take effect at the same time as the UpStage reaches shops in April; buying songs at the 99-cent rate will require one of Sprint's two new data plans: the $15 per month Power Vision Access Pack will bring ten live radio streams and special pre-recorded video content, while the $20 per month Power Vision Music Pack ups the Internet radio channels to fifty and adds a streaming Internet TV channel for music. Both will come with unlimited data use and up to ten free songs per week.
While the UpStage doesn't directly challenge the iPhone and its $499 price point, the new online music store pricing may create an additional challenge for Apple, which has never faced direct competition with cellphone-based stores due to their frequently expensive pricing methods. The iTunes Store is currently the only confirmed source of online music downloads for the iPhone and currently requires purchasing songs exclusively from the computer.
Apple hasn't announced any plans to allow downloads direct to the phone or synchronizing with a local computer through Wi-Fi.