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Apple wants over-the-air music downloads for 3G iPhone

Apple is in talks some of the major music labels over a deal that would allow next-generation iPhone owners to purchase music tracks directly from the handset over cellular wireless networks, according to the New York Times.

Owners of the company's first-generation iPhone can already accomplish this via a mobile version of the iTunes Store that resides on the handset, but they must be connected to the Internet via a high-speed WiFi connection to do so.

The arrival of faster 3G cellular network access alongside the next iPhone, widely expected for an announcement during the second week of June at Apple's developers conference, would make it more "technically feasible" for Apple to offer the over-the-air route, the Times notes.

However, the paper reports that the music labels are holding their hand out, demanding that in return they be paid more than the 70 cent wholesale price of songs sold over traditional Internet lines.

Apple's hoping for "a big launch in June," according to one label executive familiar with the matter, and as such is also looking to expand its inventory of songs that are available for conversion to ringtones at 99 cents.

"The company is also hoping to add answer tones, also known as ringback tones—songs that a caller hears instead of the 'ring ring' sound while waiting for someone to answer," the report says. "In some cases, these command an even higher wholesale price than ringtones."

Given that the negotiations are only a few weeks young, it's reported that any deal may not be announced until after June 9th, the most likely day for the introduction of the much-anticipated 3G iPhone.