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A View from Brad King

Mobile Media: An International Tale

Apple dominates the mobile media market today. International competition may soon change that.

  • October 12, 2006

While other companies continue to release competitive–if poorly named–hardware products designed to offer consumers a choice beyond the iPod, it’s no secret that when you think mobile video and music, iTunes and the ubiquitous iPod leap to mind (particularly if you’re the type of person who also thinks “podcasts”).

This delights Wired News columnist (and my former colleague) Leander Kahney to no end. I know this because, among other discussions, we’ve had a continuing Mac versus PC debate (which, I would argue, is far more entertaining that current commercials on television, but I digress).

On this particular point, though, I think Kahney’s focus on Microsoft’s “iPod killer” is misplaced (although, it’s likely a response to the amount of press that the device has received).

Global competition in the mobile music and video hardware market continues to increase, which, if history has taught anything about Apple’s inability to hold its market share, should concern Mac-aholics.

Sony announced the release of five new Walkman products, digital music players that are designed, first and foremost, to help the company wrest control of the portable music market from others in the Japanese market, according to this AFP story.

The new Walkmans will allow users to listen to about three hours of music on a three-minute charge, and up to 50 hours on a two-hour charge.

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been all that excited about a new product in Japan. Call me myopic. But the video game industry helped me understand global entertainment markets a bit better. A company such as Sony defines success as dominating two of the three key markets (Asia, Europe, and North America). Using the new Walkmans (Walkmen?) to take back the Asian market is likely the first step in a long, uphill battle–for which it has far more resources than Apple.

Sony isn’t just going after Apple on the digital music front, though. The company also announced its plan to develop a portable digital video player, according to this Reuters story.

Now, I’m not so foolish as to believe that Apple will lose its dominance in the portable player market, as it did in the computer market, because, frankly, they have what appears to be an insurmountable user base worldwide. From the Reuters story:

Sony created the market for portable music players with its epoch-making Walkman more than a quarter of a century ago, but in recent years it has trailed far behind Apple, whose iPod holds more than half the global digital media player market.

However, users tend to upgrade their portable systems far more frequently than their computers, which, if we’ve learned anything from the video-game industry, means there’s a chance to convert users on a regular and continuing basis.

But that doesn’t mean Sony is the company in the best position to knock Apple off its perch. As devices–particularly the smart phone–continue to become more powerful, it’s likely we’ll begin to see more powerful all-in-one devices. If that’s the case, Nokia, which owns 42 percent of the smart phone and PDA market, may become the 800-pound gorilla, according to this InfoWorld story.

To continue this hot pace of growth, vendors must convince buyers that new smartphones offer more benefits than less-expensive enhanced cell phones, Cozza said. To make that case, they will launch new products with advanced features and rich multimedia functions, she said. If they succeed, smartphone shipments could reach 81 million by the end of the year.

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