NEW YORK — As the beleaguered third largest wireless carrier in the U.S., Sprint has been facing the music for a while. But now Sprint is counting on mobile music to help revive its prospects.
On Tuesday, Sprint announced a partnership with Taiwanese handset maker HTC, the global music service Spotify and audio company Harman on a custom version of the HTC One flagship targeted at for music lovers. The device, called the HTC One (M8) Harman Kardon edition, is a Sprint exclusive. It will be available at www.sprint.com starting May 2 and will hit Sprint retail stores a week later.
You can get it with zero down (plus tax) and 24 monthly payments of $28.34. In the coming weeks it will also be sold at www.crutchfield.com and www.wwstereo.com, providers of high-end electronics. Whether this device becomes the audiophile smartphone that Sprint claims it will be remains to be seen. But HTC's device is already heralded for its external speakers, and this edition adds HD Audio, and a Harman technology called Clari-Fi that Harman claims "rebuilds" music fidelity lost during audio compression. It also comes bundled with Harman Kardon headphones.
Meanwhile, new and existing Sprint customers who sign up for one of the carrier's "Framily" plans will get 6 months of Spotify Premium for free — nearly 3 million Sprint customers are already in such plans. The Spotify offering goes beyond the HTC One and includes other Android devices, the iPhone, and Windows Phone 8/8.1 handsets sold by Sprint. After the 6 months are up customers who want to continue on Spotify Premium can get the service at a discounted rate of between $4.99 a month and $7.99, depending on how many people are in the Framily plan. Sprint customers not in the Framily plan can get Spotify Premium free for 3 months.
"Everyone is still looking for differentiation," says analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis. "We're seeing more device vendors looking for broad distribution following Apple and Samsung's model selling roughly the same thing across the board. That leaves Sprint looking for a way to stand out and HTC looking for any sort of sales boost it can get. (And) Spotify has been looking for a carrier partner."
The news of Sprint' partnerships comes after the carrier announced first quarter earnings earlier in the day. Sprint lost $151 million in the first quarter, but that was an improvement over the $643 million it lost during the same period last year, and it beat analyst estimates. Late in the morning, Sprint's stock was trading up more than 9%.
Sprint added that the expansion of its 4G LTE network is on track and is expected to reach 250 million people by mid-year.