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Sony aims to take back the High Ground in online music from iTunes

If you think it’s a bit late in the day for anyone to launch a music service, you’d be right, but Sony, after repeated attempts at breaking back into


Published: 27 January, 2011


If you think it’s a bit late in the day for anyone to launch a music service, you’d be right, but Sony, after repeated attempts at breaking back into the world of mobile music is about to make another run at this market and in particular hopes to break into the US, with a new music service built around a third partly monthly subscription offer under the Qriocity brand.

But buried inside the service is the key to Sony Ericsson’s existing success outside of the US with music phones and MP3 players. Regardless of the Touch UI and the iTunes store, Sony has always had the edge on music phones in its Walkman brand, when it comes to the actual music experience. It may not have sold so many, but that’s because the whole experience of its phones are perhaps inferior to the iPhone, but not, in our view the music side.

Behind its success are two ingredients, the Gracenote music fingerprint database, which Sony acquired in April 2008, but has used for far longer, which drives its MusicID service, as well as its own SenseMe music recommendation service and mood playlists. There are now copies of both these services on many handsets from others companies, but they are just that, copies. When the handset experience of the Walkman music is added to best of breed technology in music reproduction, even down to multiple patents in earbud construction, the Walkman experience was only ever let down by Sony Ericsson’s speed to get into touch screen phone designs.

Now these features are being put into a service which will shortly also be aimed at Android devices, handsets and Tablets, and that, we assume, means a Walkman app for handsets, which will drive this Sony Music Unlimited service aggressively up against iTunes.

The background to this service can be quite confusing, but way back in February 2007 a group of 23 cellcos, with a combined subscriber base of what must now be close to 800 million, took the UK Omnifone music service, called MusicStation, which now has access to most major music labels, in Europe and Asia. Initially it only launched with music from one or two labels, but since then it has added a whole batch of them. Later Sony Ericsson split its music services in the region and offered both its own PlayNow Arena (a la carte purchased music like iTunes) and also the PlayNow Plus branded subscription version of MusicSation.

Now Sony proper, not just Sony Ericsson, has integrated the MusicStation service with the Qriocity download service from Sony, by integrating it with the two key ingredients of Walkman music – Gracenote and SenseMe.

What SenseMe does on a phone is it creates not just a fingerprint to identify music (you can hold a Gracenote powered phone up to absorb any music you hear, and it will then locate and play the track to you using its fingerprint database) but it will also categorize your music in terms of genre, beat and instruments using Sony’s proprietary 12 Tone Analysis technology to evaluate music tracks, a bit like a low end version of Music Genome style analysis. Pick any single track and click the SenseMe button on a phone, and it will find all tracks on that phone with the same Mood. Taking that one step further, this Cloud Service can search all 6 million tracks and offer you all the music of similar mood.

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