10 May 2006

Is Sony finally waking up? (Part 1)

Via MacNN and a few other places, it is reported that Sony will be including support for AAC file formats in it's latest software release, and (presumably) going forward with its music players. What does this mean, you may well ask?

I have never understood why companies wishing to take on Apple in the iPod arena have seemingly avoided adding support for AAC (and also for MPEG-4 H.264/AVC on video). Unlike Microsoft's WMA, AAC is NOT an Apple standard - it is an open standard (indeed, Sony itself is a member of the MPEG consortium). AAC is basically a better MP3. iTunes default conversion I believe is to AAC format, so many users will have ripped their CD's into AAC format without realising it. If I was hoping to poach some disillusioned iPod users (and I'm sure there are one or two out there), then offering AAC would surely be a tick in the box for such users (or, given such users might indeed be ignorant of the differences, more likely it would result in not immediately upsetting your hard-won new customers as they move their music collection over to SonicStage).

Of course, Sony is not adding support for protected AAC - the format designed and used by Apple for it's iTMS-purchased songs. For the time being, Apple will keep this proprietary (whatever the French government might have to say about it). And, perhaps this distinction (which is certainly frequently mis-reported by the mainstream press and therefore misunderstood by the general populace - is it just that everyone assumes one of the A's stands for Apple?) is a reason why other manufacturers have not adopted AAC. But remember that the iTMS still does not exist in many countries, and that many iPod users have not bought any music from the iTMS, and even if they had, the vast majority of most people's music collections will be their own rips.

Some might say this move may help Apple, and in as much as it gets people to better understand that AAC is NOT an Apple proprietary format, that may be a good thing. There are also many happy iPod users who do understand the issues and have refrained from using AAC because of potential re-ripping if they wish to preserve their music player choice, and have therefore stuck with the less-efficient MP3 format. But, I can't see that this will actually sell more iPods, so in that respect, it's a common-sense move from Sony and well overdue (how about abandoning ATRAC while you're at it?).

The next logical development a music player manufacturer could do would be to make the switching from an iPod to your own device REALLY simple - a few scripts that could run within iTunes for instance and do all that was necessary to put the files (and metadata of course) into their software and resync the new device. This could even happen with the protected AAC files too.

If anyone from Creative, SanDisk, iRiver, and the rest are reading, perhaps you could enlighten us why you haven't already done these things?

Footnote: My Nokia phone supported AAC out of the box and I was simply able to transfer an AAC file from iTunes via Bluetooth and configure this as my ringtone in a couple of clicks.


Anonymous said...

My (nearly) 12 month old SonyEricsson K750i also plays AAC files. I am sure that Sony themselves will have been aware of this fact for some time which makes it even stranger that they are only now adding support for it in their music players.

Maybe Sony and the other companies you mentioned, wanted to pretend that AAC simply did not exist because the most commonly-used program that by default rips to AAC comes from the dominant company in the market.

Ian Hobson said...

Ah, good point Chris. I had wondered about the phones, and could easily have checked, but didn't in my lazyness. But as you say, such a fact only makes it stranger why if they did it on some products, they didn't do it on the mainstream iPod competitors.

Do you know if the SonyEricssons support ATRAC as well? And does the SonicStage software used with the music players provide a seamless downloading experience to the phones or is it just drag and drop music files into the phone?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that they support ATRAC. I just drag and drop the files into the relevant folder, or use Bluetooth, as I use a Mac.