Another sony proprietary technology bites the dust

For every Apple device that becomes a standard there is a Sony technology that becomes obsolete. Apple and Sony both got off to a great start in the early 80s. Apple introduced the Mac and Sony gave us the Walkman.

From that point on, Apple has had only a handful of market failures and Sony has had nothing but. Sony announced their latest casualty this week by discontinuing their proprietary ATRAC audio compression file format.

While the rest of the world committed to MP3 and WMA or Apple’s music format for iTunes, Sony made up their own format only supported by their devices. Sony saw Apple succeeding with their own format and device and figured they could do the same.

There were only a few problems with this line of thinking. Sony’s devices were clunky at best and the obscure conversion format meant that users had to use included software to convert their CDs into the ATRAC format.

Sony tried to make their devices and format more popular by releasing new players every few months for a while surprisingly that didn’t work.

The ATRAC format is only the latest proprietary Sony technology to fade into obsolescence.

It all began with BetaMax and it continues with Blu-Ray and the digital book. Sony has a long history of creating their own standards and unsuccessfully trying to get the rest of the world to adopt them.

I believe it’s all about the money. With each new Sony format comes licensing issues.

Companies must pay Sony to utilize their technology. Typically the Sony proprietary standard is not any better than the existing standard.

Let’s take a quick look back at the long line of Sony proprietary technology…

 BetaMax Sony’s standard in the video tape war. Most people agree that the standard was superior, but much more expensive. Whether the costs were due to high licensing fees by Sony or something else, VHS won the war.
MemoryStick Sony’s special memory for their digital cameras. While the MemoryStick format has been around for a while, it has gone through many generations. Does your Sony digital camera take the MemoryStick, MemoryStick DUO or MemoryStick Pro DUO? Get it right or it might not work in your camera.
ATRAC devices

Sony refused to adopt the MP3 and/or WMA standard insisting that people wouldn’t mind ripping their CD collection into a format that was incompatible with all other digital audio devices.

Digital8 While the rest of the camcorder industry evolved from analog 8mm to digital MiniDV video tape, Sony gave us Digita8. If your grandkids ever want to watch those old Digital8 videos, they may have to pay a small fortune for an old Sony Handycam on eBay.
Digital Reader For $299 you can own a device that is a little bigger than a book that will allow you to download and read books on a hard to see screen. Each book you download costs roughly the same as buying the book in the bookstore. In addition to books, you can also read magazines and other book-type files that can only be purchased through Sony’s online CONNECT store. By the way, the CONNECT service has been discontinued. Why hasn’t this caught on?
Blu-Ray The HD video format that has so many advantages over HD-DVD. The only problem is that it is Sony’s standard and everyone how has spent years competing with Sony is getting behind HD-DVD which is backed by Toshiba and Microsoft.
Clie The Clie was a beautiful device. It combined a Palm, digital camera and MP3 player better than any device prior to the Treo. It was so cool that Sony had to quit making it.
Connect Sony’s online audio service – think iTunes without ease, compatability, and selection.
MiniDisc A tiny audio disk that held as much as a CD but it was recordable and as easy to use as a cassette tape. No other company adopted it for wide release. Why? It was good, but it was cursed.
UMD Ultra MiniDisc – the next generation of the MiniDisc. It plays both audio and video but it only works in a PlayStation Portable (PSP) video game system. It is also not recordable.
DAT Digital Audio Tape recorders were huge for 15 minutes before DVD recorders became affordable. MiniDiscs had a greater advantage as they were not made of flemsy tape. Sony kind of killed themselves partially on this one.
AIBO The robotic dog that sold for $2000 or more. You could program it, teach it tricks and it would do stuff that only robotic dogs could do. Buyers guilt killed off the AIBO.


Someone is sure to point out that I left out the PlayStation and the PSP. These are Sony’s only successful proprietary techologies. However, their popularity is fast declining as competitors become more innovative and less expensive.

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