May 31, 2006 1:20 PM PDT
How Sony failed to Connect, again
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The software that finally emerged pleased few. In a move virtually unprecedented in Sony's history, executives in the company's U.S. operations refused to release the software in their market. The European division didn't have the same option, and Connect was released there and in Japan in November 2005.
Customers began reporting critical bugs, sometimes rising to complete unusability. By January, Sony issued an apology to its customers, and recommended that if the repeated updates weren't working, people should simply download the old pre-Connect SonicStage software.
Executives looked at fixing the project, and decided against it. Patches were released until April, when development on the Connect software stopped altogether.
A second life for Kinoma?
The end of Connect wasn't the end for Kinoma and Hoddie's role at Sony, however.
By early 2006, work began on Sony's new, high-profile eBook Reader, using Kinoma's FSK as a foundation.
According to insiders, Hoddie was given more direct control over this project than he had with Connect. It was touted by Stringer at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and Sony said it was slated for release in spring 2006.
How will this project fare? Some point to the successful prototype demonstration of the Reader running FSK-based software at the Consumer Electronics Show as proof that it has already come much farther than the Connect software ever did.
Other insiders note that it has been substantially delayed, without a clear end date in sight. They contend that programmers are again having difficulty integrating Kinoma's proprietary technologies with a standards-based Web content system.
Critics now say the Connect software debacle has further destabilized Sony's online music plans, and ceded 14 critical months of development and consumer awareness to Apple.
Insiders say the former Connect division is in turmoil. Tsujino left the unit in January. The loss of Wiser, who helped found the original Liquid Audio digital music company, further drains the company of people with experience in the digital music service business.
Sony has explored working with other online music companies, but nothing has yet come of it. For now, its hopes are pinned on the new generation of SonicStage, which some insiders say will be hard-pressed to handle features already planned for Sony's devices.
Sony is powerful and rich, no doubt. But it could be a long, tortuous climb back into the ring with Apple.
"Sony is still number two, three or four in almost every region, shipping millions of players," said Envisioneering analyst Richard Doherty. "It's the services side that has remained such a challenge for them."
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