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Walkman completes Sony conspiracy to hammer iTunes

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And at the prices that the Sony devices are being offered, we have to say there is only one thing stopping us (and everyone else) from going out and buying one, and that's being sure that we can get whatever music we want for the thing.

As a precursor to that, Sony has closed down its old Connect service, with a promise to customers that it will offer conversion tools to convert the Atrac 3 formatted audio to the Windows Media Audio (will it take it out of the control of its DRM at the same time?). It faintly alludes to there being many new services, including one that is part of the PS3 network, that will be able to deliver in this format and that instead of competing with iTunes, Sony is opening up its device for everyone else. Right, so tomorrow, after we buy one, where do we get music from?

At present the only clear place is Napster. We had it that Napster was out on a limb and in trouble unless it could secure a place with one of the major portable device makers out there, and knowing that Sony bundles Windows Media Player 11, and a Napster trial, with the MP3 Conversion Tool it promised in its new devices, means that there is at least one subscription service that you can sign up for tomorrow. It would be a shame for Sony not to also put all that Connect-licensed music at the disposal of all of its gamer fans on the OS3 network; and likewise, in its new "open" architecture format, it would be odd if the new Walkmans and Sony Ericsson Walkman handsets didn't have access to the new Nokia Store and the MSN Music store as well, before long.

Another important step by Sony is that it has finally produced a challenge to the video iPod, which is coming up in October for its second birthday. The new Walkman devices have quality screens, two types of H.264 codec playback and could just as easily play video as music, and have the storage capacity to do so. But in order to maximize this aspect of the device, Sony needs to aggressively pursue relationships with every online video store out there, making its content available to operations such as Amazon Unbox Video, and making its players ideal viewing devices for the same, and cutting deals for cross-promotion. Will that happen?

Back in mid 2004, when it was struggling to come to terms with the iPod, Sony had several hundred previous generation portable music devices on the market, that division was losing money hand over fist, and it made wild product stabs in the dark from every division with names including the NW-HD1, which stood for the Networked Walkman Hard Disk 1, the VAIO Pocket VGF-AP, all of which sank without trace despite this current line of Walkman's having top-of-the-line devices launched as recently as this March. Virtually all of them had Atrac 3.

What we need to see with these new devices and the Sony open strategy is clarity, and a loud voice. That means we must know in every country, with TV broadcast advertising like that used in the iTunes original launches, what it costs, how it works and how cool it is to own a video Walkman. That means no rival products coming out of other Sony divisions (what is the Mylo all about?) and Sony needs to make it pretty obvious where fans can get music now that Connect has closed. This means advertising on a scale that Connect never received.

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