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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sony Walkman Turns 30, But Who's Celebrating?

Happy Birthday! The Walkman Turns 30 by PC World: Yahoo! Tech

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The Walkman is turning 30 as Sony’s media player sales slide into oblivion - does anyone care? Sony has been coasting on it’s brand recognition for years and it’s finally starting to catch up to them. They want to be a consumer products company, but treat the consumer like a criminal using proprietary, closed software, hardware and media codecs (formats). A prime example is the last Sony product I acquired: the Sony Mylo COM1 communication and media device.

I had high hopes for it based on the Sony brand and some of the features that seemed interesting that were not very common on similar media devices at the time. These included WIFI, IM (gTalk, Yahoo!, and Skype), and the Opera web browser. The device plays MP3’s, ATRAC (one of those proprietary Sony beasts), and WMA files. It played videos, but only in Sony’s old PSP MP4 format (SP) and didn’t even come with a useful tool to convert other video formats for portable play. In fact it only came with Sony’s SonicStage software for audio.

This device started crashing when trying to IM with Yahoo messenger, and sometimes when accessing the web. Other than Skype (and gTalk once in a while), Yahoo is the main IM service I use. The problem is likely that Yahoo had changed something on their servers or in their protocol that the Yahoo Messenger version on the Mylo couldn’t handle. This could easily be fixed with a software update, but there are no new updates for it. Sony hasn't released a firmware update in over 2 years. The last update was released only about a year after the product debuted. The unit carried a 1 year warranty, which is ridiculously short for a (originally) $350 dollar electronic device. For all intents and purposes, the Mylo COM1 is abondonware. This is one of the examples of treating the customer like a non-entity.

The SonicStage software that comes with it is a poor product. To copy music along with the cover art you have to meticulously and tediously apply the CD Cover Art to every song in your library, and that only works for the main memory. Playlists are only supported on the built in memory - at least I haven't seen or heard of anyone else being able to use playlists on their MemoryStick. SonicStage can't access the 1Gb MemoryStick Pro Duo I bought for additional storage. You can just drag and drop your music to the thing via a file manager - just don't plan to be able to use a playlist, have cover art, or have any decent media management capabilities.

Sony’s support desk was also not informed about the product. They were nice people, but had obviously not received training or information on the device. The only 3 answers they could offer were: format the device and reinstall the last firmware release, install the last firmware release without formatting the device, or send it in for repair. If it's out of warranty you have to pay a ridiculous amount for them to send it back to you in basically the same shape it left in if it's a software problem, or replace the hardware part and send it back to you with the same ancient firmware.

If Sony wants to stay in the game, they should listen to their consumers and provide quality service, open standards, and stand behind their products 10o%. They have gotten so big that they are disconnected from the people that buy and use their products. Sony, listen up! It’s time to reconnect with your customers so you can start to repair the damage to your reputation that has been caused by neglect on your part.

Support your products, and make sure everyone in your support organization is familiar with them. Allow the community to get involved - look at the success of Apple’s iPhone App store. People like to be able to update, customize, and add applications they like to devices they paid hard-earned money for. Become a friend of the Geek, the prosumer, and develop on a platform that encourages hacking and enhancing. Support open formats like OGG Vorbis, FLAC, other media formats, and standard peripherals like a 3.5mm headphone jack.

If Sony doesn’t get it’s head out of the sand, this will be the last Walkman anniversary they celebrate because they will be out of the media player business.

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