November 30, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Finding harmony among iPod rivals

Hoping to loosen Apple Computer's grip on the digital music player market, Microsoft is rallying consumer electronics companies to form a common link.

The software maker is part of a working group launched last week by the Consumer Electronics Association to develop a standard port for connecting gadgets like music players to audio systems in homes and cars.

"It is important for the industry to create an open, industrywide standard for docking connectors that will give consumers greater access to the digital entertainment they have stored on devices," Jai Jaisimha, the lead program manager in Microsoft's Windows digital media division, said in a statement.

It's the latest in a series of moves by Microsoft to try to unify the many device makers and music sellers that use its technology.

Apple's popular iPod already has a standard dock connector that allows all recent models to connect to speakers, car kits and other devices.

However, other music player makers, such as Creative Labs, Dell and iRiver, have designed their own ports. That makes it difficult for accessory manufacturers, which need to design add-ons that will work with the multiple formats.

Most build accessories for the iPod, the market leader. Apple collects a cut from each "made for iPod" add-on that connects to the music player's port.

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief technology officer, has praised Apple for its integration of the iPod hardware and iTunes service. Other executives have acknowledged Apple's lead in the area, and Microsoft has gone as far as to tout iPod compatibility as one of the features of the just-released Xbox 360 games console.

Microsoft said it has heard from a variety of companies--including those that make the devices, those who sell them, those who build accessories and car makers--that there needs to be a standard among devices. The need is particularly acute inside the car, said Chad Hodge, a group product manager in Microsoft's Windows digital media unit.

Dock assembly
More than 40 companies, ranging from audio gadget makers to music service providers, are working on the CEA's push for a standard device connector. Here is a sample listing.

Alpine Electronics of America
Audible.com
Belkin
Best Buy
Bose
Creative Technology
iRiver America
Napster
Nokia
Philips
Sirius
Texas Instruments

Source: Consumer Electronics Association

"Having 15 different connectors on the dash of your car doesn't seem like a good experience," Hodge said. "I'll give credit to Apple; they've done a really good job there."

Carving a slice
There appears to be a long list of companies that, like Microsoft, want to take a bite from Apple's pie.

So far over 60 people from more than 40 companies have signed up to be part of the working group, according to the CEA. They include representatives from Creative Technology, iRiver, Sirius, Belkin, Best Buy, Bose and Nokia. Apple is not a member of the group. The group came out of CEA committee discussions over the summer and had its first meeting earlier this month. Microsoft's Jaisimha is chairing the effort.

The working group aims to have a connector that maps out both an electrical and mechanical standard, so companies can design common accessories. However, the specification would not dictate what digital music encryption methods are used. It would also allow for both analog and digital output.

Although such collaborations always take time, there is a sense of urgency on the part of all involved.

"The goal is to get it done certainly next year, hopefully by mid-next year," said Dave Wilson, the director of standards and technology at the CEA.

CONTINUED: Chasing the iPod…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
music player, digital media, Creative Technology Ltd., iRiver, Sirius

63 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Love that Play For Sure...
So much for the vaunted Play For Sure... well, not all devices
marketted under the Play For Sure program would play for sure,
they're learning as they go. Clearly they just don't get it. I would
like a universal plug for all the digital cameras please.
Posted by mudphud (137 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just better quality
Main problem for me with the "Play for Sure" & friends is its platform support: Wind0ze only. I use at home Linux & Mac OS - so most player are plainly no go for me.

And what I remember from earlier days, WMA is quite poorly optimized (better to say not optimized at all) for classics, jazz and alternative. That has completely dismayed me from the format from its very beginning. (Non of my friends musicians is using it - so I haven't tried it lately.)

It is quite sad fact that few players do support superior formats like Ogg/Vorbis or MPEG4/AAC. Ogg is open by design. MPEG4 licensing is not much of problem too (e.g. most of the DVD players have MPEG4/DivX already).

Apple truly shines at quality level and non-annoying vertical integration: music, sound, software, hardware. And if you happen to be on Mac you can enjoy it w/o hussles. If you happen to be on Linux or even (God Save you from) M$ Wind0ze (Upgrade now! Linux is FREE as in "FREE BEER"!) - iPod still just works. And on Wind0ze you can use Apple's iTunes.

Isn't it amazing how much consumer trust have Apple gained by simply supporting standards? Keep asking why M$ can't do the same and tries constantly to reinvent square wheel.
Posted by Philips (400 comments )
Link Flag
What are you talking about?
PlaysForSure is a system where you know your player can hook up and sync with Windows based software, and play MS DRM'd songs. It works just fine, as advertised.
So clearly they do get it, and you should have at least read the article.
This is about the physical cabling and ports. It would be nice if every player shared a common port interface. That would give manufactures a single target to aim for.
Posted by catchall (245 comments )
Link Flag
Interesting Comment
<" Jai Jaisimha, the lead program manager in Microsoft's Windows digital media division, said in a statement.>

Now only if they thought the same about formats for documents. They only want standards when they are on the losing end.

Sure feels good to see Microsoft scratching their head over this one.
Posted by wrwjpn (113 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So who is different?
No company wants a standard when their proprietary format is successful - Sun is doing the same thing with the OpenDocument format.

Of course, when Microsoft has a near monopoly, they are the bad guy. When Apple has a near monopoly, Microsoft is again the bad guy. May we assume that Google's dominance of online search and advertising makes Microsoft the bad guy?
Posted by just_some_guy (231 comments )
Link Flag
Exactly
They love standards so that everyone else can slit their wrists
competing to make their monopoly software successful. The
problem is that it works (for them). This one is easy, just don't by
Windows media crap.
Posted by philpacker (50 comments )
Link Flag
Bottom line.
"By unifying iPod rivals and music sellers around a common technology, the push could loosen Apple's grip on the music player market."

Once you have matched level of support of iPod, you would find that most players have very very poor quality.

iPod can break. But it has a resourse of good 2-3 years of active use. (Experience of my friends - haven't owned iPod)

My experience with alternatives to iPod is quite sad. Quality of sound is at best average. They work for 9-12 month and then something breaks: or USB cable socket, or buttons, or screen.

P.S. I had early flash player and still works - one of the first 128MB ones. And nothing is broken. Secret? Simple. It has so badly positioned buttons and so inconvient music browsing facilities rendering it - once you would want to select song/album - quite very useless. Did its makers ever tried to use it by themselves??? Keeps me wondering. The market deserves the Steve Job's label of "Zoo".
Posted by Philips (400 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More FUD
This article perpetuates the myth that the iPod and iTunes music stored are tied to each other and can't exist without each other. This is just not true. I know many people who buy music from the iTunes music store that do not own iPods, and iPod owners who have never bought a song from iTunes. Each stand well on its own and in combination with more different services than the WMA offerings.
Posted by pdost (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
you're a friggin retard, man
i love my iPod and i prefer iTunes to other media players, but don't tell me the two aren't tied to each other. iTunes is the only simple solution for accessing the iPod. Not that i would want to use WMP but shouldn't i have the choice??? and since the chip in the iPod is capable of playing back wma, not that i like the format, but shouldn't i be able to? don't get me wrong, i'll upgrade my 4g to another iPod when the time comes, cause imo it is the best option out there.

people like you need to stop chanting FUD and realize that just cause apple makes a good product doesn't mean that they are perfect by any stretch of the imagination.
Posted by mortis9 (370 comments )
Link Flag
Agreed
I buy music from allofmp3.com and it works great on my ipod. they
offer mp3 and aac, both work great.
Posted by Chris Barnes (6 comments )
Link Flag
Quit bashing Apple you dweebs
I could trust my mother to hold a knife and have zero fears I would be cut.

** I wouldn't trust Microsoft to hold a crayon.

Particularly around babies: M$ shouldn't be around Knives and Babies... (Wonderful wonderful little M$ reference from their antitrust trials where they threatened Apple "directly" saying they would knife the baby. )

=============
I have no delusions that Apple is interested in maintaining their profits. I'm okay with this as long as they provide good value. Let's be serious, all the M$ crap and other MP3 players just SUCK by comparison. Further, unlike M$... Apple is maintaining its stranglehold by simply doing it RIGHT... Apple is not doing a crappy job and locking people into it like M$... They are out innovating, out marketing, and simply outclassing everyone else.

Peace.
Posted by UntoldDreams (91 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you're a friggin retard man
read the post by the same name as mine and save me the trouble of typing a similiar response

lol
Posted by The user with no name (259 comments )
Link Flag
A unified WIRED standard?????
Hey folks, wake up. It's the end of 2005, shouldn't our audio devices be able to connect via wirelessly, like via Bluetooth or WiFi?

Here's what the goal should be: your music/multimedia collection should wirelessly sync with the media center in your car when you enter the garage, effectively "docking" with your house. Almost as good would be an iPod-like device on your keychain that automatically initiates a connection when you enter the car, controllable voice command, utilyzing a standardized communications standard so a friend's device would just "pair" with my audio system when in range.

Why unify wired connections if the above scenario is possible?
Posted by burbalurba (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A few reasons...
Adding the wireless capability would push the price up per unit
just enough to make it lose its competiveness. Would you be
willing to pay an extra $100 for your iPod for wireless
connections? You may want to pay that, but I bet there a few
thousand other people who would opt for a cheaper MP3 player
to save a buck - and brag that they saved a bundle. In other
words, the added convenience offered doesn't hit the price point
where people would be interested.

Do you think there may be problems with the wireless
connections with other cars being so close to you? Think about
being at a stop light with six other cars using wireless. I'm not a
wireless expert, but it seems to me that could be an issue.
Would security be an issue? Think Paris Hilton and her wireless
phone hacker. Even if the root of the issue was because a
T=Mobile employee didn't follow protocol the perception is that
it is possible.

Why would the units need to sync up when you get in the car?
That means that you have storage for the files in your iPod and
duplicate storage in your car. Memory, be it primary or
secondary, may be cheap, but it still costs. Putting the iPod into
a dock does the same at much less cost.

There still needs to be a connection for the devices to power up.
That's why everyone isn't asking for wireless connections in
everything. You still need to connect for power so why not sync
at the same time and keep the unit costs lower.
Posted by sunergeos (111 comments )
Link Flag
No one else can do it!
No other company in this world can make that perfect solution as Apple offers us today. Elegant yet powerful iPods with simple but feature-packed iTunes and its music store. Don't try to fight against it, just get into Apple world!
Posted by (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yada yada yada
**yawn** your so BORING
Posted by The user with no name (259 comments )
Link Flag
PLUGS4SURE as "good" as PLAYS4SURE
There's another $500 million down the drain. By the time MS gets CE manufacturers, car manufacturers and their own patent lawyers and engineers to finalize something - maybe 3 years from now? There will be 100 MILLON+ ipods out there. what dock connector will car manufacturers choose? The 90% solution or the 10% (almost) PLUGS4SURE solution?

Besides, there is already a second choice - the 1/8"/3.5mm UNIVERSAL output plug (even the ipod has that) so the MS dock will be the THIRD choice - how many car manufacturers will pick that choice?

Only companies that MS are willing to pay to install it - hope MS shareholders don't mind another $500 million wasted on something only 7 people at MS want.

As for obsolesence? How many 10 year cars are there on the road with original audio equipment? NO ONE cars three years from now. It's only what's happening now. Once again, MS proved they know nothing about the consumer market - well other than being able to throw a lot of money at it.
Posted by jbelkin (167 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ummmm....
can you not read or just like to bash MS??

Quote:

So far over 60 people from more than 40 companies have signed up to be part of the working group, according to the CEA. They include representatives from Creative Technology, iRiver, Sirius, Belkin, Best Buy, Bose and Nokia. Apple is not a member of the group.

This sounds like a WHOLE LOT MORE than just MS to me! And why not Apple? Because THEY MAKE $$$ for each 'proprietary adapter' someone makes to work with iPod.... sounds like Apple KNOWS what people want interoperability. Also sounds like Apple knows what that means... no more $$ for the right to make apple's plugs!
Posted by The user with no name (259 comments )
Link Flag
My truck has it...
Yep, my Nissan Titan has the 3.5mm aux. audio plug and works
just fine with the iPod. There's your standard.

Peace out!
Posted by cooldogjones (53 comments )
Link Flag
Ipod downloads
How2Share has just launched www.flixpo.com where you can get free content ready for your ipod or psp.

just thought it would interest the readers

jim
Posted by james wallace (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There is already a "standard".
It's called the iPod dock connector.

40 Companies?!?

By the time they agree on ANYTHING, iPod/iTunes will have 95% market share.

Apple saw this new platform opportuntity while everyone else was napping. Much like Microsoft saw the Windows/DOS platform 20 years ago. Microsoft saw the opportunity and jumped on it, and even vastly superior alternatives couldn't compete. That's what's happening here, but it's happening even faster because there are ZERO superior alternatives.

I just hope Apple continues to create excellent products and doesn't use their future monopoly to stifle innovation/competition. I hope they use it for good ... like releasing the current RIAA stranglehold on the music industry.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not FUD.
Individually, iTunes, ITMS, and iPod are great products. But together, the three form an internet-based music distribution platform where none existed before.

You see ... we're not normal. We're all computer geeks. Everybody posting here. Most PC users are not geeks. Most can barely use the damn things, much less do the technical things that we take for granted.

Apple has created a new music distribution and sales platform for the average non-technical PC user. That's why it's far more successful than anything else.

There is no other platform. There are just individual pieces that need to be glued together with geek techniques. Apple's competition is just now starting to get it.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I love the iPod
I can't complain about my iPods. Apple designed and marketed a great product.

www.626north.com
Posted by Dead Soulman (245 comments )
Reply Link Flag
allofmp3.com works w/ ipod ...
enough said, move on ... nothing to see here.
Posted by Chris Barnes (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Will they never stop?
This company continues to live up to its rap of evil empire. Is
there not a single dollar in the techno-entertainment business
that they will not use their monopoly to grab. When will
consumers learn that every segment that MS comes to dominate
suffers the same fate. Innovation dies (as competitors do), costs
explode and quality goes out the window. Every single one,
Operating systems, office producity, database, email, web tools.
Now we are all salivating about them entering our living rooms,
what is wrong with us. When will we get it. $2B to kill Netscape
and what to we have IE, with viruses, security holes and pop ads,
$5B and counting to kill Nintendo and Sony. And its working.
How much to kill Ipod's?
Posted by philpacker (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.