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Walkman completes Sony conspiracy to hammer iTunes

Sony positions itself to squeeze Apple

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The newspapers were full of stories during 2004 about how Microsoft or RealNetworks or Napster were going to knock Apple's iTunes off its perch, and time and time again, nothing really happened. Now we have the reverse.

There are genuine storm clouds and dark forces gathering around the iTunes and iPod brands and most of the newspapers shrug it off with comments about iTunes being too enmeshed in the public consciousness. There is a real sense that each of the threats to Apple - the withdrawal of some content (see elsewhere in this issue), the new Verizon-backed Rhapsody, the Nokia Store and now the Sony Walkman realignment - have been orchestrated, or at least they have all been brought to the fore by the very existence of the iPhone. The iPhone has become a threat so all the big players are shifting furniture at once to deny it space.

But the naysayers are right to an extent, it just bothers us that so many large corporations - Microsoft, Nokia, Sony, Samsung, RealNetworks and others - all failed to take a careful look at what Apple was doing back in 2004, and came up with various moves that were not its equivalent. Now, three years on, they are queuing up to do something sensible in online music and in video.

Two weeks ago Verizon teamed with Rhapsody and MTV to create a new Rhapsody America, which is better funded, has a large existing customer base and which is now finally opening the door on the mobile device music market. With Verizon's marketing weight behind it, and co-existence of the music service on both a PC and a handset, it has finally arrived at a better place even than Apple was three years ago - if not where it is today.

The key, we said at the time, was that while everyone in the cellular industry thought that music would become the automatic demesne of the handset, few of them thought that Apple would strike first and get its music service into a handset before any handset maker settled on a solid online mobile music strategy.

Then last week it was Nokia's turn, and it did not disappoint, using mostly Microsoft media-types and we guess its PlayReady DRM, to bring the Nokia Music Store to life, a year or so after it acquired music licensee Loudeye, adding devices that mimic the capabilities of the iPhone and then some.

Today it's Sony's turn, electing to extend its Portable Media Player lines with new Walkman devices the NWZ-A810 and the NWZS610, both very similar in appearance to existing Walkman devices, but carrying that same top-of-the-line magic number of eight gigabytes of Flash memory storage - the same as the iPhone. The threats to iTunes are all companies that have access to huge amounts of Flash memory, at globally significant, rock-bottom prices: Verizon through its handset makers, especially Samsung; Nokia through its vast supply lines, and Sony because it makes some Flash memory and buddies up to Samsung and SanDisk for the rest.

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