New software from a Cambridge company could transform cellphones into music and social-networking portals that stream song collections and other data from home computers and allow users to share their music libraries, opinions, and photos.
Unlike other services, which already allow users to download music files onto their phones, the new phling software, from Oxy Systems Inc., allows cellphone users to play songs stored on their home computers, using their wireless network. Because a copy of the song never sits on the phone, people can also legally browse and listen to their friends' music collections, too.
The phone "becomes a personal media server . . . my collection is 2,100 songs, but basically it's limitless," said Graeme W. Smith , vice president of product marketing for the company.
On a recent morning, Smith streamed U2's album "Vertigo" from his computer in Cambridge, and then browsed the profiles of other users to see what "adrian" in Fribourg, Switzerland, was listening to, and how he rated songs.
Oxy Systems has launched a pilot program in Europe, and hopes to offer its service in partnership with a major cellphone carrier in the United States by early next year. Pricing plans may offer phling for about 99 cents a day, with a cheaper monthly fee.
Phling has two clear advantages over existing mobile music players, say its creators. Current cellphones can only play as much music as fits on their memory card, but phling users would be able to access any song stored on their home computer. So far, with a pilot program running on Swisscomm in Europe, the largest collection available numbers about 18,000 songs, Smith said.
But beyond that, phling opens up the solitary experience of listening to music on headphones, by allowing users to rate songs, find out what other people with similar tastes like to listen to, and listen to their friends' music. Users are able to open their music libraries to six friends.
The obvious drawback is the speed of the network.
While Smith played U2's "The City of Blinding Lights," the data stream stalled -- leaving a short hiccup in the music that could become a nuisance if a user happened to walk or drive into an area with poor cell coverage.
"Basically, the biggest limitation is the wireless connection you have. The slower and the worse the connection, the worse the experience," said Roger Entner, wireless phone analyst at Ovum, a Boston research firm. "The redeeming feature of it is that you can share music and see what other people have. You know: Oh, I don't know Joe from Israel, but Joe has really good taste in music. So why not try this or that song?"
The company is betting that US cellphone companies that have invested money to upgrade their networks to provide data services will be interested in providing a service that would give customers a reason to sign up for more expensive data plans. Phling could also drive music to each carrier's music store, by giving customers the option of buying a song they see listed on someone else's playlist.
"As carriers have rolled out mobile data networks, they have the capacity. But what they don't have yet is a lot of great applications . . . We're creating the next generation of users who say, 'Of course I use the mobile' " to listen to music, said Michael A. Krasner , president and chief executive of Oxy Systems.
"As mobile community and mobile music and mobile user-generated content continue to grow, I think Oxy Systems is very well-positioned," said Julien Blin , a research analyst at IDC Corp. who recently saw a demonstration of the software. "I don't know for sure if it's going to be a success. I think they have a good idea."
Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.