Sony’s boneheaded refusal to make MP3 players that can play MP3s is one of the key reasons why the firm is little more than a footnote in the world of digital music. However, it looks like the firm realises its insistence on its own ATRAC-3 file format (and nothing else, unless you want to convert your entire music collection into ATRAC-3 so you can use it on a portable) means it’s getting spanked in the portable player market: according to C|Net, Sony has changed its strategy and will start to include MP3 support in forthcoming players.
The change won’t happen overnight – Sony will start with its flash memory-based players, and there’s no word on whether its hard drive-based players will also support MP3 – but it’s a significant move. To date, Sony’s attempts at digital music have been laughably bad: the conflict between being a hardware firm and one of the world’s biggest record labels means Sony has had something of a split personality towards digital music, and while its players are often excellent (great sound and very long battery life are the rule rather than the exception), nobody in their right mind is going to shell out on an MP3 player that doesn’t support MP3.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out for Apple: the iPod rules the roost partly because it was the right product at the right time, but also because companies such as Sony haven’t made compelling iPod alternatives (Creative and iRiver kit is lovely, but it doesn’t have the iPod’s cool factor or intuitive design). However, it looks like the sleeping giant of Sony is finally waking up. Things are about to get very interesting.