I visited Japan as part of my vacation this summer and the one must-do pilgrimage for my PS2 loving son was to the Sony Center building in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Here they have seven floors of showrooms with every product Sony makes: computers, camcorders, cameras, televisions, DVD players and the like. The “home theater” room where they had a Blu-Ray DVD of Spiderman II playing on a 12 foot wide screen was just stunning. Sony has a lot of very cool electronics.
Right as we walked in the door the first display was the MP3 players. I thought I was getting a glimpse into the future. The iPod sized players came in a bunch of designer metallic covers and had a cool screen that can be used in landscape or portrait mode. The red model is pictured here. Little did I know that they had been on sale worldwide since April. When we visited Electronic Town (Akihabara), these little Sony devices were as common in the vendor stalls as iPods are in the US. iPods were also available everywhere and often just a little cheaper than their Sony equivalent.
But don’t go looking for one of these Sony players (which go by the rather un-catchy name of Walkman® Hard Drive) in your local Best Buy, because they are not there. Sure, you can buy them online or special order, but they are not featured in sales flyers and are definitely not on the showroom floor with the iRivers or the Toshibas or the other wannabes in this category. It’s like Sony doesn’t really want to be selling them.
You can find some of the Sony flash memory players on the blister pack racks at Best Buys, like this Network Walkman® which is a 1GB flash memory player with this cool twisty control on the end and a one line display which makes it nicer than the iPod Shuffle but not as neat as the iPod Nano.
I was reading the fine print on the Network Walkman and it seems that it converts any MP3 files to Sony’s proprietary ATRAC3 format before loading it onto the player. It even warns that it is not compatible with WMA files. Now if you remember my rant from a few days ago about my Foo Fighters album fiasco, the only format the songs on this Sony/BMG release can be ripped as are WMA files.
Here is where Sony is a complete basket case. Its music division is locking its music away from its music player division. The music players don't play industry standard formats and require you to use crappy Sony software. Until they can come to some sort of truce between the warring factions, Apple is going to continue to gobble up both marketshare and mindshare.
Sony has a new British CEO, Howard Stringer, that comes from the music and movies side of the conglomerate and he has bold plans to unite the company. Wired Magazine did a puff profile of him in the last year that seems to have vanished Ministry of Truth-style off their archives. Now people are calling for his to resign or be fired over the DRM rootkit flap.
Sony needs to decide who their customers are and sell them what they want whether that is MP3 players or music albums. Continuing to cut off their nose to spite their face is not a good business strategy.
Technorati tag:hummingbird rump, Sony, Walkman, DRM, Japan