Sony Electronics, maker of the first portable music device in the Walkmancassette player, has switched course on the format of its latest digitalplayers, which will now support the consumer format of choice: MP3.
Sony’s MP3 move is a departure from supporting only its own Atrac format,which is among a number of proprietary alternatives that, while technicallysuperior in some respects, do not offer MP3’s portability between home, auto,mobile and other music devices.
At the same time Sony announced it was going to build support for bothits own Atrac and the more universal MP3 format, industry researcher IDCreported that MP3 player sales are booming, reinforcing analysts’opinion that MP3’s ability to deliver the same digital content on differentdevices makes it the favorite format of consumers.
Sony’s Slow Switch
“MP3 is the ultimate in terms of inter-device compatibility,” YankeeGroup senior analyst Mike Goodman told TechNewsWorld. “One of the mostimportant things for consumers is portability and transferability and youare lacking in any of those areas with the proprietary formats.”
Analysts agreed that Sony made a major mistake by previously announcingit would only support its own, proprietary format. The electronics giant isnow indicating that its players will be supporting MP3 from now on.
Goodman said the switch in strategy is Sony’s effort to find the fastestand easiest way to meet consumers’ demands for interoperability.
“It should have been done from the start,” Goodman said. “When youlook at a typical user’s collection, the vast majority [of files] are MP3.”
Gartner research director Mike McGuire said the MP3 support from Sony wasan acknowledgement of the popularity of the music format, but added it was”fairly late in coming.”
“Really, all it does is get them to some level of parity with the rest ofthe world,” McGuire told TechNewsWorld.
De Facto Default
Although a number of different formats — Microsoft’s WMA, Apple’s ACC,Sony’s Altrac and others — compete in a variety of digital music devices,support for MP3 is becoming a required ingredient for any successfulportable player.
Some would argue Apple’s iPod is an exception, but the proprietary-format player is likely to see more competition from MP3-capable devices, according to analysts.
McGuire said that although MP3 is also a format that is popular onpeer-to-peer (P2P) networks and is vilified by some copyrightowners such as the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA), it isthe most likely candidate to be a standard format.
“There are so many file formats out there,” McGuire said. “MP3 isprobably going to be the default for a lot of people. This is somethingcontent companies are just going to have to live with. The market is goingto force interoperability.”
Transfer Trumps Tech
Yankee’s Goodman said that while other, proprietary formats feature bettercompression and copyright protection technology, the portability of MP3 ismore important to the people who buy players.
Sony’s move “just re-affirms the support customers have for MP3,”Goodman said. “All the others have better compression, but MP3 offers onething those formats don’t offer and that’s cross-device compatibility.”