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Technology

Sony faces the music

Following on from my comment (in the Microsoft’s Doing an Xbox post) about Apple’s competitors’ inability to get their shit together, it seems that Sony’s coming to similar conclusions:

Sony President Ryoji Chubachi, who heads the electronics business, believes that TVs and portable music players are two products in which Sony must show it’s a winner.

“If we lose in either category, it’s inevitable that people are going to have doubts about Sony,” he said.

Sony has fallen behind Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod in portable digital music players: Sony has sold one-fifth as many players as the 58 million iPods that consumers have snapped up.

A book on Sony by Japan’s top business daily, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, said the success of the iPod and the iTunes download service made Sony’s brand power “a thing of the past.”

“As an outsider to the music industry, Apple acted extremely quickly,” according to the book “Sony Versus Sony.””Sony, which had its own music division, worried about possible damage to CD sales and could not act as quickly.”

One error Sony made was sticking to a format for music files called ATRAC3, which protected against illicit copying. Sony only belatedly adapted to the more widely used MP3 file format. The iPod played MP3s from its inception.

Although Sony won’t say much more about its plans for future music players, Stringer is giving more say to software designers and requiring greater interaction among the various teams developing products.

Late last year, Sony brought Tim Schaaff from Apple and appointed him senior vice president of Sony’s software development. Schaaff oversaw interactive media at Apple and the development of Apple’s QuickTime media player for computers.

I reviewed the first generation of Sony Network Walkmans and the first generation iPod, and in almost every respect – battery life, sound quality, sheer grooviness – the Sonys were the better products. But Sony blew it in two key areas: its bone-headed refusal to support MP3, and the equally bone-headed insistence on making punters use horrible, horrible, horrible software to transfer tunes to their player. Taken together, those moves effectively said “Hey, Steve Jobs! We don’t want to sell any players! The market’s all yours!” It’s one of the dumbest business decisions of all time, and I hope Sony hasn’t left it too late to undo the damage.