Sony fails to Connect

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After high profile, well-thought out launches from Napster and iTunes we’d expected Sony’s music download service, Connect, to be equally as innovative. Sadly this isn’t the case. And as The Guardian reports it appears that Connect for the UK is a service in desperate need of a USP.

Sure it has great selection of tracks. And yes they are in a quality sound format. But the streaming facilities that make Napster stand out and the community features (like displaying users playlists) found on iTunes are notably absent on Connect.

We reckon it is a work in progress and that Sony is gearing up for a full on launch when it debuts its first hard disk audio players in the autumn.

Click here, or read on for the full report.

Sony isn’t used to playing second fiddle. So it must have been galling that the unveiling of its Connect music download service two weeks ago barely received a mention in the press. Especially as rival launches from Apple and Napster a few weeks earlier had been so high profile. Even more annoying for Sony is that the service is still reeling from largely negative reviews that coincided with its US launch in May.

A cursory glance at the service’s website shows that this month’s UK launch was a soft one designed to take the sting out of its rivals. Sony’s marketing muscle is most likely to focus on Connect in September, when its iPod killer, the NW-HD1 hard disk audio player, which is smaller and better specified than its Apple rival, reaches the stores.

There are plenty of issues Sony needs to resolve by then. First, the SonicStage 2.0 software required for the transfer of tracks is an astonishing 40MB download – twice the size of Apple’s iTunes Windows software. Then there’s a user interface that is cumbersome and tricky to use. Perhaps Connect’s biggest weakness is what it lacks. Apple’s iTunes boasts several community-type features such as iMix, where music fans share playlists. Meanwhile, Napster has recommendations that point usersto tracks and artists similar to ones they have already downloaded. Connect has none of these.

Nor does it have the superb streaming facility offered by Napster that allows users to listen to any track or album with excellent quality from their PC (it charges a subscription fee for this service). In contrast, Connect offers limited 30-second snippets of its tracks.

Connect is also lumbered with Sony’s proprietary Atrac3 files. The format might boast superb sound quality, but Atrac3 files can only be transferred to certain Sony MiniDisc players and a few of its Flash memory-based Network Walkmans. Users can, however, create standard CDs from the tracks, and Sony will have an array of hard disk players in September.

Arguably the service’s best feature is its library of tracks, which more than rivals both iTunes and Napster. Sony claims there are 500,000 available for download, 200,000 less than iTunes, but due to its excellent selection of artists on independent labels, it is a very European-focused offering. And even though most of the tracks retail for 99p, there are some good deals on album downloads, with many retailing for £7.99.

While Napster has excellent streaming facilities and iTunes has the tie in with the iPod, Connect is, for the time being, a service without a unique selling point. Given the marketing might and ingenuity of Sony, don’t expect it to stay that way for long.

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