Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
# 10:42:00 AM:

I predict Sony's e-Reader will fail, no matter now cool

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Sony e-ReaderSony has a neat eReader ebook device coming out. It uses a remarkable electronic paper technology that apparently looks like paper, and requires no power except when changing pages.

I'm sorry to say this, but I can't see Sony succeeding with its ebook technology, because it's Sony. If any company is capable of taking cool technology and screwing it up by trying to keep too hard a lock on the content, Sony is the one.

Think MiniDisc and the proprietary ATRAC encoding, and Sony's refusal to support MP3 until it was way, way too late. Think their attempts to shut down and muzzle (ha ha) sites that promoted hacks to the Aibo robotic dog—which they've now discontinued because of low sales, largely because the best potential customers were the ones who wanted to hack it (contrast with Lego Mindstorms). Think last year's rootkit DRM audio CD fiasco (which has prompted me not to buy anything from Sony for the foreseeable future). Think Memory Stick. Think the lockdown of content for the PlayStation Portable. Think Sony's hard-headedness around the Blu-ray next-generation DVD format, leading to another format war with Toshiba's HD-DVD (although Toshiba is to blame here too).

Honestly, Sony hasn't been able to take a rational approach with content since it helped invent the audio CD with Philips 30 years ago, and that was only because people seemed not to be thinking much about what digital audio meant back then. Buying a record label and a movie studio in the interim only skewed their perspective more.

Ebooks will come. But I predict Sony will be an afterthought when they do.

P.S. Yes, yes, I know Apple is sometimes almost as bad. But Apple seems to understand that total content lockdown isn't resonable. iPods have always played MP3 files. You can convert your iTunes music purchases to non-DRM files fairly trivially, using Apple's own software. (Purchased TV shows are another issue.) Apple isn't perfect, but they've struck a better balance. And right now, they're eating Sony's lunch in a lot of markets as a direct consequence.


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