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Friday, May 12, 2006, 12:15 pm PT (03:15 pm ET)

Report: Softbank and Apple to co-develop iPod phones

Softbank Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. plan to jointly develop cellular phone handsets that have built-in iPod digital music players and can download songs directly from Apple's iTunes Music Store, The Nihon Keizai Shimbun is reporting.

According to the report, Softbank President Masayoshi Son and Apple chief executive Steve Jobs have already met and reached a basic agreement on the cell phone partnership.

The two companies will reportedly first develop a 3G cell phone model that incorporate functions reminiscent of Apple's popular iPod, eliminating the need for consumers to carry two separate devices.

"These handsets are to be released in Japan sometime this year at the earliest," the report states.

Softbank, which became a cell phone service provider by acquiring the Japanese unit of British mobile phone company Vodafone Group Plc, was reportedly chosen by Apple because the overseas company plans to offer high-speed Internet access for cell phones in Japan.

Apple plans to later introduce similar media-enabled cell phones in the United States, the report adds. Details such as the fee for downloading songs is said to be up for discussion amongst the two companies at a later date.

The reliability of the report is unknown.