RealNetworks, SanDisk Team To Battle iPod And Zune - InformationWeek

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RealNetworks, SanDisk Team To Battle iPod And Zune

RealNetworks' new Rhapsody DNA is aimed at device manufacturers looking for an alternative to Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

RealNetworks on Monday unveiled a media technology platform for portable devices, and said it's partnering with SanDisk on a digital player that would compete against Apple Computer's iPod and the upcoming Zune from Microsoft.

RealNetworks's new Rhapsody DNA is aimed at device manufacturers looking for an alternative to Microsoft's Windows Media Player, now that the software maker is getting ready to launch its own digital player. The new platform is based on the company's Helix digital rights management system.

DNA can operate on devices that use Windows Media. The platform, however, does not depend on Microsoft software, and device makers can embed RealNetworks's Rhapsody music service separately. SanDisk, which accounts for about 9 percent of the mobile player market, plans to integrate the service into a new line of Sansa e200 series portable players.

In trying to differentiate itself from its far large rivals, RealNetworks is adding personalization features to Rhapsody DNA. Users who plug a supporting device into a PC would get an automatic update of music based on artists and music genres they have listened to and downloaded in the past. The feature would be available as part of a music subscription service.

"You can say it's the first smart MP3 player on the market," Dan Sheeran, senior vice president of music and video services for RealNetworks, said.

Microsoft rocked the market last month when it announced plans to go head-to-head against the Apple iPod, which accounts for more than 75 percent of handheld digital media players sold, according to the NPD Group. Microsoft decided to enter the market after watching partners fail miserably for years to catch Apple.

As a result, device manufacturers that use Windows Media are looking for ways to differentiate themselves against their former partner-turned-rival.

"It certainly made MP3 makers very interested in talking with us," Sheeran said.

Besides the personalization features, Rhapsody-embedded devices, including SanDisk's, would include nearly 32 hours of preloaded music from artists signed with EMI Recorded Music, SONYBMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group, as well as independent labels.

SanDisk expects to ship its Rhapsody-based Sansa e200 line in time for the holiday season. The devices are expected to include 8GBs of flash memory, with the ability to add 2GBs through a memory card. They would be able to record music from an FM tuner, and include a microphone for voice recording. Battery life is estimated at 20 hours. Pricing was not disclosed, but current 8GB Sansa models cost $250.

RealNetworks said it's working with several unnamed device manufacturers in integrating Rhapsody into new products. One such company is Sonos, which makes wireless, multi-room digital music systems for the home.

Part of the reason for Apple's success, according to experts, is the tight integration, and ease of use between the iPod and the company's iTunes music service. That isn't lost on RealNetworks, which is promising an equally simple process.

"I agree that getting music from the PC and on the device has been clunky, and that's specifically what we're addressing with the Sansa/Rhapsody product," Sheeran said.

The RealNetworks/SanDisk announcement followed on the heels of a new Creative Technology media player unveiled last week. The Zen Vision W video, photo and music player was launched the same day Microsoft unveiled details of Zune.

In announcing the new device, Creative played up its support for Amazon.com and the online retailer's Unbox movie and video store, which would compete with Microsoft's Zune online store. Amazon also launched Unbox last week.

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