Sony confirmed yesterday that they plan to launch an online media store (BusinessWeek) in order to sell music, movies, and books for use on a variety of products. This new store will be called Sony Online Service, and it will be launched as part of Sony's push to reverse their recent losses with an increase in software content.
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This new online store will be a direct competitor to iTunes. Anyone who sells media over the Internet is a competitor to iTunes. The question on everyone's mind is; what will Sony do to differentiate their Online Store from all of the others? How will they compete with iTunes?
One way seems to be by offering content useable on a wider variety of devices. They haven't specified what file types and devices will be supported by their store. If they can offer a large selection of DRM-free files in a form accessible by most non-Apple PMPs, they could draw in a lot of customers. Of course, getting content providers to sell their media on a DRM-free store won't be easy, and there's no guarantee Sony will even try.
But, if they want to actually compete with iTunes, that's what they'll have to do. In iTunes, Apple has created a cheap, easy, fast online storefront. The only issue with it is that customers are very limited in what they can do with the files they have purchased. By catering to people with non-Apple devices (and folks who hate DRM) Sony could attract a solid, dedicated base of customers.
Sony has stated that, at some point, they may allow 3rd party developers to start creating applications for the service. They've already confirmed that users will be able to post digital content, like photos and videos they've taken, to their user accounts. That's at least one cool idea. We'll see in a few months if Sony's had any others.