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Japan's Cell Phones Playing Apple's Tune?

Steve Jobs and Co. may join Tokyo-based Softbank to market music-playing mobile phones in Japan. iPod's hip image could make them a hit

Internet mogul Masayoshi Son can never be accused of dawdling. When the chief executive of Tokyo-based Softbank (SFTBF) snapped up British wireless operator Vodafone's (VODPF) local business in March, there was little doubt that Japan's telecommunication industry was in for shock therapy. The biggest question facing the multimedia mogul and high-speed dealmaker was how his new acquisition would fit into Softbank's vast empire of high-speed broadband, Net-based phone and data services, and online content.

Son hasn't wasted any time in trying to develop a strategy to cross-leverage these assets. On May 13, the financial daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that Son and Apple Computer's (AAPL) Steve Jobs had agreed to market iPod cell phones for Japan as early as this year. Softbank called the report "speculative," though it didn't deny that a music-playing cell phone was in its plans. Apple Japan officials declined to comment. A source close to Apple told BusinessWeek the two sides have been talking in recent months. Investors took the report seriously: Softbank's shares finished up 2.6% in Tokyo trading.