Sony aims at the iPod - but not with MP3 despite rumours

by Guy Kewney | posted on 23 September 2004

Perhaps stung by criticism of its new iPod rivals - it now has three! - Sony has let it be known that it is "seriously" considering including MP3 playback abilities for its Flash memory players.

Guy Kewney

But it is, definitely, not replacing its other standards, like the Atac audio codec, or the minidisc recording format, said an indignant spokesman.

<1/> The credit-card sized hard disk Network Walkman

The company has announced (but hasn't yet shipped) two direct rivals to the Apple iPod - one from its Walkman brand, and the other, for computer nuts, from the Vaio brand.

But the MP3 announcement is irrelevant to these devices: they will continue (for the time being) to store digital tunes in Sony's own Atrac codec.

Quite why the internal data format of iPod or Walkman devices should be a matter for interest isn't altogether clear; you can't normally access the raw contents of the playlist without some moderate PC/Mac expertise - which is not something the typical user cares about.

The advantage of a Sony hard disk player over the iPod is mainly battery life. Sony reckons a three-hour charge will set you up for a 30-hour playback session - compared to Apple's claim of a 12 hour battery.

<1/> For Vaio computer users ...

It also boasts a Sony-proprietary disk read head which retracts in zero gravity. That means that if you drop it, the head will have moved away from the vulnerable disk surface before impact; you have a much better chance of picking up a working device.

On the other hand, if you are hit by a bus, which always looks like the likely fate of users of these portable concert halls, then the disk head will be as surprised as you are, and probably as badly damaged, whether you use iPod or Walkman brands.

The Walkman disk music player should be out before October, says the company; the Vaio one, before the end of 2004.

<1/> Flash-memory based Network Walkman models

The company also does a range of flash memory players, to which the MP3 playback plans apply. With SD cards of one and two gigabyte storage capacities, the sensible user will probably decide that there really isn't any point in carrying "13,000 songs" around when your battery can only play 15 of these every hour for a max of 30 hours.

But then who ever said that music fans were sensible?

Pricing of the new Sony devices is still secret, and won't be announced until launch.

Yes, Sony is thinking MP3 - but who cares if it's an internal data format? - You can discuss this article on our discussion board.