Backstage: Sony’s music confusion officially tiresome

I’ve been busy with other things, but Sony can always catch my attention by firing its key executives, seriously demoting PlayStation and PlayStation Portable “father” Ken Kutaragi, or announcing yet more supposed iPod competitors. The first two are rare enough, but it seems like three months can’t pass these days without a couple of new iPod missives from Sony.

So at this point, rather than just saying “Sony, STFU already, you don’t get it,” some helpful pointers might be in order. If you’re an analyst, investor, or Sony product planner, you might want to consider these few concepts before you suspect Apple will have anything to worry about from any product with the Walkman name.

Didn’t You Hear? Price Matters. When the market leader is selling a 512MB device for $99, a fourth- or fifth-placed player can’t enter the market with a $140 512MB player (the NW-E105) and expect people to care unless the new product is dramatically better.

“Better?” What’s That? Let’s see – the NW-E105 specs say you need to supply your own batteries, carry a USB cable if you want to plug it in to a computer, and – oh wait – there’s no FM tuner, and you need to use Sony’s software. I won’t even get into the whole “no one wants Sony’s music downloads” issue. Not only isn’t this thing better than the iPod shuffle in any really important way (don’t even quote that BS battery life number) – it’s actually worse. And for the record, I’m not a big fan of the shuffle. But I know why it sells so well. Do you?

What About The Cool One With The OLED Screen (NW-E405)? Yeah, iPod killer number four hundred and five is indeed cool. And it’s also $170 at today’s exchange rates for a 512MB version. Apple makes an iPod for about the same price – you might have heard about it; it’s called the iPod mini. And its screen has more than 3 useless lines. The day I spend $170 for a 512MB Sony MP3 player is the day it’s a PlayStation Portable with a memory card, and doesn’t just play MP3s.

Are any of you guys and gals tired of hearing about these ersatz iPod competitors yet? Should we keep posting the news stories just so you can vent on them, or skip the “new competitor” stuff altogether unless something really important happens?

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