April 26, 2005 1:07 PM PDT

RealNetworks rekindles iPod tech tussle

In the midst of a broader music release, RealNetworks has quietly renewed its iPod technology battle with Apple Computer.

Last year, RealNetworks released a technology called Harmony that for the first time let copy-protected songs from a music store other than Apple's iTunes play directly on the iPod. RealNetworks had independently mimicked the antipiracy tools used by Apple and hadn't gotten Apple's permission first.

Apple called the company's actions "hacker tactics" and a few months later changed its software to break the compatibility, at least on iPod Photo devices. On Tuesday, a RealNetworks executive said his company had re-established compatibility with all iPods.

"Harmony now supports all shipping iPods, including iPod Photo," said RealNetworks Chief Strategy Officer Richard Wolpert.

The technology tussle, which focuses on a relatively small portion of RealNetworks' music business, nevertheless aims at the heart of one of the most controversial issues in online music.

Incompatibility between the major download stores and music players has fragmented the digital market. For example, songs purchased from Apple's iTunes store can only be played directly on Apple's iPod, while songs purchased from Napster or Microsoft cannot be played on the iPod.

Record company executives have been bitterly critical of this balkanization, and have asked technology executives--primarily Apple CEO Steve Jobs--to reconsider their technology decisions. As yet, no broad move toward compatibility has emerged.

RealNetworks' Harmony software, which allows songs to be played directly on an iPod or on a Microsoft-based device, is limited to the company's pay-per-song store. Songs downloaded through the new Rhapsody portable subscription service are compatible only with a small number of Windows-based MP3 players.

An Apple representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

17 comments

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What fragmentation?
The most popular digital player and the most popular download
service are only compatible with each other. By far the most
popular. It's like saying VHS fragmented the tape market or
Microsoft fragmented the OS market.
Posted by jmmejzz (107 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This Fragmentation . . .
i found on the internet that there was an installed base of 56.1 million mp3 players at the end of last year. of those, according to this article:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2004-07-21-digital-music-players_x.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2004-07-21-digital-music-players_x.htm</a>

about 21.5 million were "next generation players". of those, "well over 5 million" would be ipods.

i know no one who owns an ipod. i've never even seen one, except in a store. i know plenty of folks who own other mp3 players. most of them chose to play mp3 music because of this fragmentation of the market. they have a higher confidence that their music collection will remain compatible with any future player because of that decision.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
If you don't know anyone who owns an ipod...
...maybe you should crawl out from under your rock, open your eyes, and look around! every other person i know owns one, walk down the street and those white ear buds are everywhere. geeesh. you must have no life, or no friends.
Posted by (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ipod snobs
You people have got to be joking. So, if you don't have an ipod your out of touch? Every other person has an ipod? Apple has done a brilliant marketing job.

Let's say 5 million ipods were shipped/sold. Let's say there are 285 million people in the U.S. That would be 1,754 ipods per 100,000. That does not sound like everyone ha an ipod. ipods are mainly ubiquitous in urban environments or a public commuter environment. I dont have an ipod. I have a media pc which I use to stream music and burn to cds. I use itunes. So, get off your soap box and face reality¬ everyone will want or need an ipod. Personally I will buy an ipod PHOTO when the prices drop.
Posted by ajaikarran (10 comments )
Link Flag
Uhhhh, no.
Actually I just bought an MP3 player this past weekend, and it was not an iPod, and Apple's device never got beyond the first cut of such devices I looked at. I'm thrilled with the little thing I have, and don't see buying an Apple at any point in the future. My wife was all for buying an iPod until I let her use my own player, now she doesn't get what the big deal is about.

iPod is great, but its not for everybody, and in a year or two, it won't even be for most people.

NWLB
****
www.NWLBnet.blogspot.com
Posted by NWLB (326 comments )
Link Flag
Real couldn't rekindle...
... gasoline with a blowtorch. They are so far behind in the field
that they are virtually out of sight. At least, I've never seen any
reason to bother with Real's products, no Real-based files show up
anywhere. But I have seen lots of reasons not to.

And with MP3 working for everyone, there's hardly fragmentation.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The truth about online music stores
The truth is - the majority of people that have digital music players don't even use these stores.

For example, I have over 8,000 songs on my iPod and only 12 of them were purchased from iTunes (and I use the term "purchase" loosely because they were actually free, from the Pepsi promotion.)

If I were going to buy any new music, I would buy the CD and rip it. Why? Because I LIKE having the ENTIRE CD - all the music, the lyrics, the CD jacket, etc. Plus, I can rip the CD in any format I want at any data rate, as opposed to buying a typical 128k file with DRM.

This whole debate is just silly. Besides which, it seems as though iTunes is the BEST store out there. So why whould anyone want to switch?
Posted by Snowdog63 (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
it's crazy
I don't have an IPOD. I hate dealing with their stinking DRM crap too. Buying these encoded music files are a waste of time until we have one standard for everybody.

Maybe Congress will do something; when your next COLUMBIA CD from the store works only on a SONY player. The same people own both brands. This is what we have already with Napster, ITunes, Real and the other screwed up onloine sources.

NO THANKS...
Posted by cousinkix1953 (27 comments )
Link Flag
Money for nothing!
Of course the music industry would love to see all online music services go subscription only. They get more money for nothing that way.
Posted by The_Raven (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
5 Million iPods?
There were 5.3 Million iPods sold last quarter. So there are many more iPods out there than some people here suppose.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
 

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