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Walkman completes Sony conspiracy to hammer iTunes

Sony positions itself to squeeze Apple

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If Sony gets it right then it will be yet another of the forces driven by the jealousy surrounding the Apple iTunes and iPod franchise and it will take bites out of Apple along with the bites taken by Rhapsody America and Nokia.

So how long before all of this hurts at Apple? Consumer take off is measured by three rules - "I want one," "I can afford one" and "I know someone that has one," and it is this last qualifier that these new threats need to get past. Verizon will begin to have US penetration in about 12 months to the point where everyone has listened to a friend's Vcast handset music service and seen that it can do everything an iPhone can do; Nokia will reach many parts of the world long before the iPhone arrives there and will be considered the music phone's real inventor, and especially be a service loved by operators because they can push it out on 3G handsets, not the waning GSM devices; while Sony still has to convince us that it is a player, but if it overcomes its shyness about pushing one of its portable devices hard, and drive it aggressively through its huge retail partner channels, it will begin to build brand points also in around a year. Our take is that in a growing market iTunes will shrug this off for 12 to 18 months and then begin to see an erosion to its iPod base, which is just slightly more than the improvement in its iPhone base.

Sony has said that its Atrac-based Connect service will be phased out by March 2008, and by then the strategy for converting those customers, rather than losing them, must be clear as a bell.

Sony said that battery life on the new Walkman models allows eight hours of video playback for the NWZ-A810 series, and that it will sell for between $140 and $230 depending on storage. Battery life will be more than nine hours for the NWZ-S610 series and both devices can play audio for more than 30 hours. Prices range from $120 to $210. They both have QVGA screens and play 30 fps video at 320 x 240 resolution.

The S610 has a 1.8-inch display, the A810 slightly bigger, the S610 also has an FM tuner. Both devices support USB, and in file formats AAC, MP3 and WMA audio formats with DRM, and JPEG for photos. Sony will also adjust other members of the Walkman family to reflect its new open platform approach.

The Walkman video players store up to 1,850 songs on the eight gigabyte models, 925 songs on the four gigabyte models, and 440 songs on the two gigabyte models, for songs an average of four minutes in length at 128kbps in the MP3 format.

To our way of thinking the mistakes that have led to Apple iTunes dominance is that companies like Sony initially thought they wanted to overtake or become Apple in the music market. Later they thought they'd settle for market share survival, and now they genuinely want to take back a piece of what they now realize is not a subset market, but a market which is destined to be THE market for all music.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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